Chapter 2 - THE CHURCH IN ENGLAND (AD 604-734)

While the light of the Gospel was darkened by the Mahometan conquests in some parts of the world where it had once shone brightly, it was spreading widely among the nations which had got possession of western Europe.

In England, successors of St. Augustine converted a large part of the Anglo-Saxons by their preaching, and much was also done by missionaries from the island of Iona, on the west of Scotland. There, as we have seen (p139), an Irish abbot, named Columba, had settled with some companions about the year 565, and from Iona their teaching had been carried all over the northern part of Britain. These missionaries from Iona to England found a home in the island of Lindisfarne, on the Northumbrian coast, which was given up to them by Oswald, king of Northumbria, and from them got the name of Holy Island. Oswald himself had been converted while an exile in Scotland; and, as he had learnt the language of the country there, he often helped the missionaries in their labours by interpreting what they said into the language of his own subjects who listened to them. The Scottish missionaries carried their labours even as far south as the river Thames; and their modest and humble ways gained the respect and love of the people so much that, as we are told by the Venerable Bede, wherever one of them appeared, he was joyfully received as the servant of God. Even those who met them on the road used eagerly to ask their blessing, and, whenever one of them came to any village, the inhabitants flocked to hear from him the message of the Gospel.

But these Scottish missionaries differed in some respects from the clergy who were connected with St. Augustine; and after a time a great meeting was held at Whitby, in Yorkshire, to settle the questions between them and the Roman Church. We must not suppose that these differences were of any real importance; for they were only about such small matters as the reckoning of the day on which Easter should he kept, and the way in which the hair of the clergy should be clipped or shaven. But, although these were mere trifles, the two parties were each so set on their own ways that no agreement could be come to; and the end was, that the Scottish missionaries went back to their own country, and did no more work for spreading the Gospel in England, although after a while the Scottish clergy, and those of Ireland too, were persuaded to shave their hair and to reckon their Easter in the same way as the other clergy of the West.

In those dark times some of the most learned and famous men were English monks. Among them I shall mention only Bede, who is commonly called the Venerable, and to whose care we owe almost all our knowledge of the early history of the Church in this land. Bede was born about the year 673, near Jarrow, in Northumberland, and at the age of seven he entered the monastery of Jarrow, where the rest of his life was spent. He tells us of himself that he made it his pleasure every day "either to learn or to teach or to write something;" and, after having written many precious books during his quiet life in his cell at Jarrow, he died on the eve of Ascension-day in the year 734, just as he had finished a translation of St. John's Gospel.