O GOD, by whose gift the blessed Abbot Benet left all things in order to become perfect; grant unto all who have entered the path of evangelical perfection that they may neither look back nor stick fast in the way, but that, running to Thee without stumbling, they may obtain everlasting life. Through Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
Saint Benet Biscop, also called Benedict Biscop, or Biscop Baducing, was born around 628 in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. He died 12 January 689/690 at St. Peter’s Abbey, Wearmouth, Northumbria. He founded, and was the first abbot of, the celebrated twin monasteries of SS. Peter (at Wearmouth) and Paul (at Jarrow on Tyne, nearby). He is considered to be the father of Benedictine monasticism in England.
Of noble birth, the young Biscop Baducing was a thane of King Oswiu (Oswy) of Northumbria before renouncing (653) a worldly life. In that year he made the first of several trips to Rome. Following his second Roman journey, he became a monk at Lérins, France (666–667), where he took the name of Benedict.
On his third sojourn in Rome (668-669), he was asked to conduct St. Theodore of Tarsus, newly consecrated as archbishop of Canterbury, to England, which he did in 669. It was also in that year that he was appointed abbot of what would become St. Augustine’s, Canterbury.
St. Benet’s fourth journey to Rome, in 671, was for the purpose of becoming better acquainted with Roman monastic practices. This instruction equipped him to establish monastic foundations in the north of England, which he began in 674 by establishing a monastery on land in Wearmouth granted by King Ecgfrith of Northumbria. This monastery was placed under the patronage of St. Peter.
Around 678, St. Benet left the prior of St. Peter’s, St. Ceolfrith, in charge at Wearmouth and made his fifth journey to Rome. He returned with Abbot John, arch-cantor of St. Peter’s in Rome, to teach Roman chant at St. Peter’s, Wearmouth. A second endowment from King Ecgfrith allowed St. Benet to establish St. Paul’s, Jarrow, in 682.
In 687, the Northumbrian abbot made yet another journey to Rome, sojourning there about four years. These pilgrimages enabled St. Benet to build a splendid collection of manuscripts, relics, and art work with which he endowed his monasteries, so that by the late seventh and early eighth centuries, SS. Peter and Paul were known as, jointly, a flourishing center of Christian scholarship and art in western Europe. St. Benet was the first to introduce into England the building of stone churches and the art of making glass windows. One of Europe’s finest scholars of the time, St. Bede the Venerable—eventually declared a doctor of the Church—was a monk of St. Peter’s and was able to carry out his historical and theological work thanks to the fine library assembled by St. Benet. From the twin monasteries in Northumbria came a tradition of learning and artistic achievement that influenced the whole of northwestern Europe.
St. Benet’s health declined around 686, and he remained bedridden until his death. His relics reportedly were translated in 970 to the abbey of Thorney on what was then the Isle of Ely. St. Benet Biscop’s feast day is 12 January.
[The photo is of the current St. Peter’s, Monkwearmouth, of the Church of England. The west wall, tower, and porch survive from the Saxon era.]