St. Acca, Bishop of Hexham, Friend of St. Bede

Continuing the series on monastic saints, compiled by Jason John Edwards, Obl.S.B.

From Celtic Saints:

Born in Northumbria, England, c. 660; died 742; feast day can be October 19; feast of translation is February 19. From his youth Acca had been close to other saints of the time. He was raised in the household of Saint Bosa of York and became a disciple and constant companion of Saint Wilfrid, whom he accompanied for 13 years to England, Frisia, and Rome (and in the last, says Bede, ‘learning many valuable things about the organisation of the church which he could not have found out in his own country’). When Wilfrid was ill at Meaux in 705, he told Acca the story of his vision. Later, on his deathbed, Wilfrid named Acca abbot of Saint Andrew’s in Hexham.

Acca was also a friend of the Venerable Bede, who described him as “great in the sight of God and man” and who dedicated several works in his honour. For his part, Acca urged Bede to write a simple commentary on Luke because that completed by Saint Ambrose was too long and diffuse. He also supplied material to Bede for the Ecclesiastical history and to Eddius for his life of Saint Wilfrid.

Saint Wilfrid was the first English prelate to appeal to Rome in a dispute. Acca, who succeeded Wilfrid in the see of Hexham in 709, also believed that the English Church needed to be brought into line with Roman customs–liturgically rather than legally. Bede writes, “He invited a famous singer named Maban, who had been trained by the followers of Pope Gregory’s disciples in Kent, to come and teach him and his clergy.” Maban, a monk of Canterbury, taught church music for 12 years–reviving old forgotten chants as well as bringing new ones. Acca also sang beautifully, according to Bede, and encouraged this revival by his own example.

Acca loved the Scriptures and studied them diligently. He refurbished the churches with sacred vessels and lights. Above all he enlarged and beautified the cathedral of Saint Andrew in Hexham, and adorned it with altars, relics, and sacred vessels. He also finished three of Wilfrid’s smaller churches. He also established a fine library to which scholars and students were drawn, all of whom received the patronage of Bishop Acca, one of the most learned Anglo-Saxon prelates of his day. Bede considered this library one of the finest collections available.

For some reason Acca was forced out of his diocese in 732. He was exiled to Withern (Whithorn), Galloway (and may have been its bishop); but he returned before his death and was buried at Hexham. Two stone crosses decorated with grape vines adorned his tomb in the cathedral’s east wall. The relics were translated in the late 11th century, at which time a portable altar inscribed “Almae Trinitati, agiae Sophiae, sanctae Mariae” was found in his coffin. They were again translated in 1154 and 1240.

He is generally depicted in art as an abbot or bishop in a library with monks, sometimes with the Venerable Bede.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s