Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Middle Ages of the web – ancient pathways, monastic steps, St David yesterday, St Chad today and lines of communication ...

Why did the north of England produce so many wise and learned men in the very early centuries AD? Before the Roman invasion of Britain the ancient peoples initially followed animal tracks, which turned into regular routes for their communication, including very ancient ones running along elevated ridges of hills, such as the one here from Eastbourne to Winchester (the South Downs Way).

The Romans changed the track system of Europe and England for ever, building roads that were there to last, thus permitting heavy freight-wagons to be used in all seasons and all weathers.

Their road system allowed them to move armies and trade around, as well as communicate news quickly. This incredible system spanned more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km) of roads, including more than 50,000 miles (80,500 km) of paved roads; Britain only had 2,000 miles of roads, of which a great many now form the basis of our road system.
Remains of the Appian Way in Rome, near Quarto Miglio

Communication with horses, either being ridden or drawing carts, oxen and carts were slower, while the armies marching even slower – but speeded up with the improved road communications, initially mainly built for the armies’ use – so they also criss-crossed the country.

Once the Romans had been beaten back – along these same roads, leaving the door open for the Anglo Saxons to invade, then the Vikings, sea routes particularly to Scandinavia, Denmark and Germany were established. The English were beaten back to Wessex, in the west of England.

Christians were originally persecuted by the early Roman Emperors, including Nero who blamed the Great Fire of Rome on the Christian faithful, but by the early 4th Century state persecution had ceased, and in 380 AD a law was enacted establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Christianity had spread north into Europe and had reached and briefly flourished in England, while establishing itself in parts of Europe under the Romans; however paganism in the other cultures – Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Celts, Picts – continued to hold sway.
Celtic Cross on Lindisfarne island.

During this time St Patrick (387 – 493), aged 16, had been captured and taken to Ireland as a slave, before escaping and returning to his family. After entering the Church he became a bishop and returned to Ireland, where he continued his ministering to convert the king and his Druids (a priestly and learned class).

Actual confirmation of his life and missionary work are sketchy and have been debated by scholars over the years, however he left two letters that are considered authentic and contain details of his early life. However his teachings must have made a huge impact because by the 8th century he had come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland, despite the Irish monastery system evolving after his time.

St David, who is celebrated on 1 March, lived from 500 – 589; he was born in Wales and spent his years founding monastic settlements (note not solely monasteries) and churches in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, which was still mostly pagan.

The Gaelic Irish St Columba (521 – 597), who on being exiled rowed and sailed across the Irish Sea to Scotland, a journey of about 100 miles, taking 3 – 4 days in good weather, in a boat made of animal skins stretched and secured over a wooden frame.

St Columba based himself on the island of Iona (central picture above), but travelled the north of Scotland, introducing Christianity to the Picts, the Scots of the day. His missionaries would have travelled far and wide in Scotland and further south into northern England. The stone crosses were built in wild and uninhabited places, standing as symbols to the new religion, and establishing new pathways and new lines of communication.

Columba was renowned as a man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books.
An imaginary portrait of Pope Gregory circa 1610(Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome)

Pope Gregory (540 – 604), also known as Gregory the Diarist, was the first Pope to come from a monastic background, sent Augustine, a Benedictine prior of a monastery in Rome, to England to convert the pagan King Ethelberht, King of Kent. Ethelberht had married the Christian King of Paris’ daughter, who would wield some Christian influence over the Kentish King.

St Augustine of Canterbury (+/- 533 – 604) was fairly successful in his mission, and ensured his successor would carry on his work as Bishop of London. The tentacles of Christianity were spreading north. Augustine had sent letters to Rome asking for the Pope’s advice on various matters, these are recorded by the Venerable Bede, including the Pope’s reply to go north and establish a second metropolitan bishopric at York, the first one meant to have moved from Canterbury to London, but which never happened for reasons unknown.

St Chad, who died in 672, was an Anglo-Saxon churchman, became Bishop of Northumbria, later becoming Bishop of Mercia (middle England – see the recent treasures). His saint’s day is today, 2nd March. Most of our knowledge about St Chad also comes from Bede.
Saint Chad, Bishop of York: Monastic Chapel 1920, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York. This is the Christian saint Chad in stained glass form. He was born in Yorkshire, Kingdom of Northumbria.

Bede, this most renowned of early English scholars, became a monk at Jarrow and devoted his life to religion and learning. His industry, output and range were remarkable, but he is probably best known for his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", a work of unusual merit and value, which has led him to be called the 'Father of English History'. His book is a major source of information to the year 731.

In fact Bede (672 - 735) wrote many books, over 60, most of which have survived. It is thought that he travelled widely meeting priors, monks and bishops, recording his meetings in letters, including a letter to a former student, Ecbert, who would become the Archbishop of York, at the instigation of the Archbishopric in 735.

Alcuin of York (+/-735 – 804) was a scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, who became a student of Archbishop Ecgbert. At the invitation of Charlemagne he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court where he remained until the 780s. He wrote many treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and some poems. He is considered a prominent architect of the Carolingian Renaissance, and among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of that era.
Portrait labelled "AUGUSTINUS" from the mid-8th century Saint Petersburg Bede; it is the oldest historiated initial known.

Charlemagne (742 – 814), King of the Franks, expanded the kingdom into a Frankish Empire that incorporated much of western and central Europe. During his reign he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III, which temporarily made him a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople.

His rule is associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages, becoming known as the “father of Europe”: his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans.

Charlemagne comes to the aid of Pope Adrian I (Hadrian 1)
We became introduced to Alcuin of York through a Chaplaincy card left for my mother, when she was in the Acute Brain Injury Unit. Once she was able to interact we wondered who Alcuin was .. and I was sent home to google or Wikipedie as it happened. She was really interested in him; my uncle knew exactly who he was! My ignorance shone through. These partings to find out more kept us amused as we explored subjects I’d found to discuss, or were brought to our attention in other ways.

As yesterday was St David’s Day, and today is St Chad’s day, and I’ve been posting about the Romans - I got to thinking about the lines of communication in our early history – before reproduction of books, letters, treatises, or tracts were commonplace – in another few hundred years.

How the Romans opened up Western Europe with their roads, how the Christian missionaries trod the lands, opened up new pathways across the country, how connections were made between the monasteries, new ones established. This explains my conundrum as to why the north of England produced so many great and learned men.

These connective links were never lost and allowed communication to really unfold, showing the great wealth of knowledge, political influence, the transference of that knowledge between the centres of excellence – the monastic settlements that owned a lot of land, had libraries (encouraging learning and study), helped the poor and looked after the local communities.
A page from a copy of Bede’s “Lives of St Cuthbert”, showing King Athelstan presenting the work to the saint. This manuscript was given to St Cuthbert’s shrine on Lindisfarne in 934. Lindisfarne monastery (circa 635), which Bede visited and spent time there, had important connections with Iona, and subsequently the evangelising of the north of England, including Mercia ... the links go on.

We already have illuminated manuscripts, illuminated books, such as the Book of Kells, or the Vulgate Bible sent to Rome, but only reaching Florence (due to the untimely death of the entrusted messenger) where it remains in the Laurentian Library, that it is thought Bede himself might have worked on.

This Bible is now acknowledged as a British classic of extreme high quality – reflecting the inter communication that went on between nations .. including Britain, which was not such a heathen backwater after all – it was fully integrated as a part of Europe 1,300 years ago, and was a cultural force ... until once again men from afar came to conquer – the Vikings – before the super power of William the Conqueror once again allowed Britain to regain its identity.

Dear Mr Postman – a short note for this long post, which I hope everyone will learn from, if not enjoy as such! My mother progresses .. neither encouraging, nor discouraging – I feel impotent to help her at the moment and that is difficult.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Liara Covert said...

You offer such a wonderful glimpse into learned individuals. Thank you or sharing this research and insights. A related point is that sources of universal wisdom present in form in every era. Some people move beyond a sense of the past to feel as through universal,lessons do not exist in perceived periods of time, but rather, within us and accessible as we awaken and remember. As a person reads and raises self-awareness at his own pace, then he notices that certain types of people and opportunities appear in his scope of awareness. This is no coincidence. Its all cosmic synchronicity.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. thank you - I just can never get a perspective on the historical timings of how things happened .. and I thought this was a way of showing those things simply.

Re universal lessons - blending the past with the now, and becoming self aware, appreciating the possibilities of cosmic synchronicity at all times, is something to remember.

Sara said...

Hilary -- I always learn something new here. It is amazing how the "wealth of knowledge" we share today was built through the connections made through those early Roman roads.

However, having traveled in England by car, I do wish the roads might have been just a little bit larger.

I remember being trapped between hedgerows and feeling like a deer in headlights as some huge farm machine came lumbering towards me:~) I must admit, however, that somehow they always managed to get by me relatively safely.

J.D. Meier said...

I always have a fondness for olden roads. I like cobblestone pathways and the paths less trodden (but it sounds like these roads were pretty trodden ... but ancient pathways are cool :)

I think early on it was Asterix and the Golden Sickle that turned me on to old roads (or maybe it was the Wizard of Oz and that yellow brick one.)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. I agree and that’s what I think .. they established the European, Mediterranean and Persian routes, including Mediterranean Africa ..

Well – we are only a little country!!!!! But wasn’t your entrapment wonderful that you could inspect the hedgerows closely, and look into the small fields through the gates, see the birds in the trees etc .. I have to say the machinery has got somewhat bigger than it was 40 years ago or so .. I love the country lanes (not Roman Streets!) ..especially years ago when there were fewer cars and people didn’t travel the lanes .. driving in the sun and seeing the primroses out, the foxgloves peeping up, sedges, etc etc .. magical ..

Good to see you .. and glad it brought back memories of your English trip .. it’s playing the game over – here travelling when everyone else isn’t!! Even that can be difficult .. oh well keeps us going in this little land of ours - Hilary!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi JD – thanks for popping by – good to see you. Yes the cobbley cobbles – impossible to walk on except with flat shoes – but I think the Roman roads were very well trodden, carted etc as you say .. and those roads are wonderful.

Yes – again I think you’re right .. my brother was into Asterix .. and laughed his head off – I think I was too ‘old’ .. now somewhat even older = I appreciate them – and have referred to them in one of my recent posts .. Asterix living in Gaul .. had so many great adventures in and around Europe .. I think I prefer the Roman cobbles .. but having said that of course the yellow brick road leads to the gold at the end of the rainbow – does it?! Perhaps I’ll go for that one!

Jannie Funster said...

"the north of England produced so many great and learned men." I find that to be the same for the north of many countries. Maybe in the cooler climes one turns inward?

I was enthralled with the ancient Roman parts discovered in your fair London town. Footprints of the pioneers and intrepid ones strewn across the ages. Ghost footfalls one can still hear if tuned in enough.

Alcuin is an interesting name, had not heard of him before.

I have to smile at Texas who think we have much history here -- baby stages compared to your wealth of bygone treasures!

Sending love and the promise lucky lupines soon, to you today!! :)


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jannie – I think I should have rephrased that as .. why were they there! But you’re probably right the cooler climes produced great peoples .. but surely so did the warmer ones too – I’m sure!!

London .. and actually all of England has great Roman historical sites and treasures – we have a Roman fort here – I must do a story on it sometime – it’s half under the sea now!! There are certainly lots of ghosts wandering around .. or walking the straight roads .. keeping a watchful eye ..

Thanks for picking up on Alcuin – he was amazing as a philosopher and leader ..

But I too remember coming to the States in 1976 and everyone being amazed at the 200 years of history (as it appeared) that you had .. I had difficulty holding my tongue .. it’s difficult to convey our 2,000 years of civilisation and that’s not a lot really .. as there was so much more before that melds with our today .. but all the nations have so much to offer and we’re still finding out – our heritage has been written down and through common law standards set, which is why we still have ours & the Italians, Greeks, Egyptians etc ..

I’d loved some lupines – that picture of the field of lupins is wonderful .. yes please send them over!! Bye for now – and hugs to BB ..

Barb Hartsook said...

Fascinating to me, Hilary, is the road your mind took to conclude this article. More than once you sent me clicking off to find out more about each one here. Especially regarding the illuminated manuscripts and books. Books have been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember back. So, reading that Bede had 300-500 books in his library, and that he himself wrote over 60 -- and that Alcuin was a scholar and teacher as schools were begun -- I find all that fascinating.

I took the trip back to the beginning of your blog to see why you wrote a postscript each time to Mr. Postman. I have a better feel for your blog now, and I certainly wish your mom well. (In fact, you've sent me hunting for a poem I wrote when my own mom took ill, for the last time, in the summer of '86. I'd love to still have her...)

BK said...

I have enjoyed reading about how the Romans opened up Western Europe with their roads; an interesting journey into history.

Wishing for all the goodness in all areas of your life and sending you positive thoughts.

Evelyn Lim said...

I like the cobbly roads. I feel as if I have walked many times through the same pathways. Carrying pails of water or sitting on a cart. Sometimes skipping, laughing or in a conversation even. A home in the middle of a countryside lies in the distance. A scene from lifetimes ago.

Marketing Unscrambled, Home edition said...

Hello Hilary,
Thank you for the great information that you always put into your blog posts.

Hope that your mother does better.

Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barb – so pleased to see you and read your comment and glad you had a good look around – we never know when anyone’s going back to the beginning to see ‘why the blog is being written’! Just glad that you enjoyed some of the links and look around. My mind probably reflects the posts – eclectic.... wandering along connective ideas that interest me & I hope you.

The learning that was available is always surprising – only to peoples within the boundaries of the learning settlements – churches and monasteries. Libraries were available too – even in the Cradle of Civilisation (Persia), Egypt, Greece and the Roman – clay tablets and papyrus scrolls were 'the books' then – both public and private ones.

Did you find your poem – I do hope so? What a wonderful memory to have of her – we never know how long we have with our loved ones .. and I think I’ve been lucky to have these last few years .. despite her illness. I just wish her pain free, comfortable and quiet times now. Thank you so much ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi BK ..very pleased to hear you enjoyed the ‘tour’ and our early times of two thousand years ago.

Thank you and I appreciate for your thoughts re my mother and our lives over here ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Evelyn .. yes the cobbly roads are wonderful and evocative .. I loved that picture of the Appian Way .. I can imagine the wisteria creeper, rambling roses sprawling in profusion over the buildings and walls .. and I love your views of being on the road then .. the time we would have had for skipping, laughing and chatting as we go – that’s a lovely visual .. with the cottage in the country .. – you have managed to create for us – thank you Evelyn so much .. I shall be thinking about these scenes during the day, as we wait for spring and early summer to come along.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dan and Deanna .. glad you enjoyed it .. and yes my mother is a little better I'm pleased to say .. but with the ongoing challenges .. we keep positive = the most important thing ..

Janice Lynne Lundy said...

Not blogging much these days, Hilary, but did want to stop by and find a tidbit from you about your mother. I found it here. I am sorry about this "limbo" stuff. 'Tis hard. As always, holding you in thought, heart, and prayer. Blessings! Breathe...

I am glad your writing continues to bring you joy. You fill us up with such good stuff!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jan .. I've got lots to read of yours .. but they're dropping off the Reader now! Yes - poor Mum .. we plod on - and the doctor visits regularly .. but it's fine.

Thanks for the breathing .. yes - I should shouldn't I? Thanks so much for your thoughts - email coming .. and yes I like to post .. I have lots to write about .. and I'm happy to hear that it's good stuff!!

Sara said...

Hilary -- As you know, I nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. I think this is a well deserved award and hope you will accept it.

If you decide to accept this award, here's what you are supposed to do:

Right click on the picture of the award at my site and save a copy to your site and use the picture in your post.

Link back to my site in some way

List seven interesting things about yourself (this really is FUN!)

Nominate seven other bloggers for the award. I only nominated three.

As I said in my post, I sort of break the rules a bit. So, do what feels comfortable to you:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. will do .. not sure I'll adhere .. but I'll do something ... I might do what you did .. who knows .. I'll be there ..thanks for the 'rules' .. did no-one ever tell you I don't do those!! You're a star .. cheers Hilary

Wilma Ham said...

Hi Hilary.
Interesting fellows these romans and their roads. Someone told me why the railway tracks have such very weird measurements, because they originally followed the width of the roman carriages.
So there, they left more heritage until this day.
xox Wilma

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma - good to see you & you're right (though it's probably earlier) the roads and railway standardisation came about quite earlier - otherwise any travellers, armies etc would be stopped in their tracks!!

The Romans left us so much .. probably putting more 'internet' speed into the social structure of the day .. leaving us so much for our times ..
hugs to you too .. Hilary

Blue Bunny said...

pee, ess.

you are so beautiful insides and out.


Blue Bunny said...

my deer sweet hillree!!

i haz 786 brudders as you may know (and 655 sisters,) and 2 of them is named Chad and david and my mommie saying that they is saints, butt i not 100% a saint because i sneeks kookies befor diner sumtimes, hee, hee.


of course i lives wit my jannie now.

frum blue bunny, whoo does love you a lot!!


scheng1 said...

I have never associated road with knowledge. I guess that is one factor. Probably the other factor is the willingness of great teachers to teach.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. U R 2 kind .. me sweeeet??? Y – big hugs an tanks.

I’d nevr huv tought U wud huv 786 bros, an 655 sis .. an they be zo ancient an wize .. U R so luckie to have zo much historie in your famdambilly .. an saints too .. no I kan zee u be no saint – but kookies is so nice ..

Glad your Jannie luks after U now – oh BB U R sooo kind ... love from us all – Hardwick, Mum and me xxoo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Blue Bunny .. a pee, ess .. that’s coooool ... booootiful inzides an out – ooh .. tank U zo muchly .. hugs and bigger hugs to U too ... xxooxoxoxo

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sam - many thanks for the award - I'll be over. All the best and have a good weekend ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Scheng .. nor had I .. but roads give us opportunities to travel, especially centuries ago .. like today's web - who would have thought that would be 'applied' to knowledge .. and as you say - we would be nowhere .. if teachers didn't learn, explore, test and then see if we're willing to take their ideas in - so we can then broaden our own knowledge ..

- we're all teachers in some way .. giving thoughts out .. thanks for being here ..Hilary

Anonymous said...

Hi Hilary
So much knowledge.

One of my favourite places in the North of England is Durham, famous for its Cathedral. In days gone by the Bishop of Durham was the King's representative in the North.

Durham is also associated with the Venerabal Bede, famous for his learned writings.

When I visit Durham I always go over to the island of Lindisfarne or Holy Island. A bleak, desolate and windswept place even in high summer. Lindisfarne is only connected to the mainland via a tidal causeway. The monks there must have been dedicated people.

Interestingly there is a St Chads in Birmingham England, not far from Solihull where I live.

BTW thanks for commenting on my site - much appreciated.

Keith Davis

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Keith .. I must go to Durham .. I've written about it a couple of times - one was the mud slip they had there .. and I must have a look round - the situation looks stupendous, let alone the history and cathedral .. baillie wicks came up when I was posting at some stage!

Yes - can't put all the info in - Bede really deserves a post of his own .. but I'm here to jog memories and through your comments you're highlighting other bits of info -which is great - just what I want ..

I went to Lindisfarne years ago with my father we drove over .. that year it was very hot, too hot for most things! We stayed at Alnwick.

St Chad's .. he built a monastery nearby where it was the main centre for a while .. I think I'm right - though I did a post on him last year 2nd March - his saints day .. so much!!

That's a pleasure coming over .. it's an interesting blog topic .. and good to tie up ..
(Keith of http://easypublicspeaking.co.uk/ ) -
sorry to hear of the WP blip .. anyway your web address is as above ...

Next time I hope it'll be right and work ok ..
Thanks for the visit .. Hilary

Joanne Utke said...

Thanks for the great info!

It is fun to learn History..

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Joanne .. good to see you. Yes - it is fun to learn .. especially you who home school your kids .. glad you enjoyed it .. history is so interesting .. Have a good week - Hilary