ALCUIN IN ENGLAND


THE BENEDICTINES COME TO ENGLAND

In 597 A.D. the papal librarian Augustine and forty Benedictine monks arrived in England, sent by Pope Gregory the Great, to begin the conversion of the local people to orthodox Christianity. They brought enough books with them to form the nucleus of the scriptorium library which they included in their monastery built at Canterbury in Kent. In line with their teaching duties they named their establishment Kanterburi, analyzed as .ka-an.-.te-er.-.bu-uri:

.ka ika ikasi learned 
an. ana anaia brothers
.te ate ateratu to take advantage of
er. era erabide education
.bu abu aburu eman to express (opinion, idea)
uri uri urrikimendu repentance
Take advantage of an education from the learned brothers and express repentance.

Once the buildings were finished, the grammarians among them settled down to the demanding but creative task of laying the foundation for the new language. Little is known about the amount of progress achieved during the next decades until the year 635 A.D. In that year King Oswald of Northumbria offered his help to establish a new monastery in the NE of England on an island near the mouth of the Humber river, called Holy Island. He asked the Gnostic St. Aidan, who had built the Irish monastery on Iona, to send priests to build a new monastery on the island in a location which was within sight of his fort at Bamburgh. St. Aidan decided to lead the delegation himself and the monastery buildings were started, as was the habit at the time, on the ruins of the sacred site of the Ashera religion.

The ruins visible there today are those of the subsequent monastery built in 1083. The island is about 2 km off shore and can be reached on foot at low tide. After the Vikings burned the monastery in 793 the island was known as Lindisfarne. Some other early monasteries were built after this in England such as Wearmouth in 674, Jarrow in 681 and Rochester in about 780, to expand the language conversion effort. The principal language center became York, not far from Holy Island, where a scriptorium was attached to the Cathedral school. Around 1100 a large Benedictine monastery was also built there. Contact between these centers of learning was regular and frequent, as remaining records show. It was from Holy Island and Rochester that regular contact was maintained with the Benedictine monastery of Egmond in Holland. The name Holy Island was changed to Lindisfarne after the Viking raid of 793. With the VCV formula the name breaks down to: .li-in.-.di-is.-.fa-arne:

.li ili ilintu to set fire
in. inu inular sundown
.di udi udikan get away!
is. isi isilume bastard
.fa ifa ifar northern
arne arne  arnegatu cursed
Get away from here! At sundown the cursed bastards from the north have set fire!

ALCUIN, THE BENEDICTINES' TEACHER

If any person can be identified as having had the greatest influence upon the formation of English and the other Germanic languages, this person must be Alcuin. His absolute dedication to the task, his organizing ability and his tireless work during a long life had such an influence that he must be regarded as the greatest of west European language teachers. The name Alcuin was apparently given to him at the time that he became head of the Cathedral school in York and is composed of three words: al.-.ku-in.:

al. ala alaiki happily
.ku aku akuilatu  to stimulate
in. inu inurritu to inspire
Happily stimulating and inspiring.

Alcuin was born around 732, in or near York and grew up at the Cathedral school of which Egbert was the head master. Egbert was especially "concerned to carry on the tradition of learning which he had known under his master Bede, a tradition already founded by its former bishops Bosa, John of Beverley and Wilfrid the Second."

Egbert
eg.        ega        egapetu         to protect
.be        abe       abegi egin     to welcome
er.        era         eraspen         devotion
.t.         ati         atxikitasun     faithfulness
"He welcomed and protected (the boys) with devotion and faithfulness."

These bishops had been trained in Irish Gnostic discipline of books under Abbess Hild of Streanaeshalch, the later Whitby. Streanaeshalch is made up of five words: .st.-.re-ana-esha-alk:

.st. ezta eztabaidazale fond of discussions 
.re are arrerazko hospitable
ana ana anaiak brothers 
esha esa esalditu to talk (the "s" is pronounced as "sh")
alk  alk.  alkarbatu to get together
Fond of discussions, the hospitable brothers get together to talk. 

Under Egbert, the York Cathedral school became the most famous center of learning in England which attracted young men not only from nearby Northumbria, but also from the rest of England and the mainland. Although at first the school had concentrated on religion, Egbert expanded the curriculum to include the liberal arts and secular literature and science, such as Bede had written down at Yarrow. It was in this energetic atmosphere that Alcuin grew up. Egbert loved all his boys but he took a special interest in Alcuin, who would run errands for him in the streets of York, learn about its history from the pages of Orosius and Bede and roam the Roman ruins on the banks of the river Ouse.

He learned how the Roman Emperor Severus had come to crush the northern Picts and the Caledonian Scots. Emperor Constantius had come to see Britain under his power and here he had also died. Here his son Constantine had started his reign which had been of such importance to Christianity. The city was already old at the time of the Romans, having been a trading center and important harbour on the navigable Ouse, dating back to long before Christ was born. The first Church had been built in 627 by Bishop Paulinus who had dedicated it to St. Peter. This little wooden building was soon replaced by Paulinus' successor, King Oswald, who completed a splended structure of stone.

As Alcuin grew up, another teacher became even more important to him than Egbert had been. His name was Aelbert, whose special interest was in books and teaching. It was Aelbert who allowed Alcuin to teach the younger students. Alcuin said later about Aelbert: "My master told me to rise with all that was in me to the defence of the Catholic Faith if anywhere I should hear of the springing up of strange sects, opposed to Apostolic doctrines". Aelbert introduced more advanced studies such as Latin grammar, language and prose, rhetoric, mathematics, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy.

Natural sciences were also taught including eclipses of the sun and moon, tides, earthquakes and the laws that govern the lives of men, beasts and birds as written by Pliny, Isidore and Bede. Alcuin also encouraged these teachings and gave credit to pre-Christian teaching, saying: "They were the wisest men who discerned these arts in nature. It is a great disgrace to us to let them die out in our time". Canon law was required by those who wished to enter the priesthood which also required knowledge of music such as the Gregorian chant as composed by Pope Gregory himself. Every minute Aelbert could spare was spent in his beloved Cathedral library, which expanded rapidly under his devoted care. Alcuin then assembled for him a list of all the books and documents in the library, the first library catalogue in Britain.

When time permitted Aelbert would travel to the continental monasteries to borrow more books to be copied in the scriptorium. On one of these trips he took Alcuin along with him to Rome and Pavia and visited Frankish monasteries like Murbach on the way back.

"Murbach" comes from: .mu-ur.-.ba-ak.:   
.mu    amu    amultsu         tender
ur.      uri     urrikitu          to show compassion
.ba      iba    ibarretxe       house in the valley
ak.      aki    akitu               to be exhausted
"At the house in the valley the exhausted find tender compassion".

All these travels and activities resulted in more knowledge being accumulated and raised the profile of the school and of its master to new heights and it generated a desire in Alcuin to do the same if and when he became master of his own school.

When Alcuin was 35 years old, he was ordained a deacon, which was one step lower than a priest, as the analysis of the word "deacon" shows: .de-ako-on.

.de       ide    ide                     member
ako    ako    akordiozko     traditional, conventional
on.    one    oneskarri         worthy of respect

"Traditional companion worthy of respect."

The title "priest" is agglutinated from: .p.-.ri-ist.:
.p.    apa    apaiz                 priest
.ri    ari     ariketa             assignment, task
ist.   istu   iztun                 speaker, persuader
"The priest's task is to persuade."

The task assigned to Alcuin was to establish and run a college where monks and priests were taught the new language and learned how to teach this to the people. He became therefore the educator of the clergy. It is likely that it was one of the local grammarians who coined the word "Library", when he painted or carved the word on a sign which he hung over the door giving access to the study hall:

"Library" from .li - ib. - .ra - ari
.li    eli     elizdiru               religious duty
ib.    ibi    ibili                    to acquire
.ra    ira    irakaskuntza     education
ari    ari    arrigarri           marvelous
It is your religious duty to acquire a marvelous education.


ALCUIN MEETS CHARLEMAGNE

Alcuin believed that the creation of the new English language had started in earnest with Venerable Bede, acknowledged the most learned man of the time and the foremost historian of England. He was Alcuin's hero and role-model and tried to pattern his life after him. Shortly before his death in 735, Bede had written a severe critique of monastic living in England: "within very many of these 'houses of God' monastic doors concealed homes of lust and luxury, free from discipline, to which crowded all who gladly shook off for comfort and idleness the burden of an honest life in the world". Alcuin always remembered these words and warned his students never to give in to temptation. The name "Venerable Bede" deserves to be translated because it is exactly in line with the other Benedictine names. It analyses as: .be-ene-era-ab.-.le    be-ede:

.be obe obeagotu to improve
ene ene ene come to me 
era era erabide education
ab. abe abe cross
.le ele eleiza  church
 
be be bedeinkagarri blessed One
ede ede ederki brilliant
To improve yourself, come to me for an education under the church' cross. The Blessed and brilliant one. 

In 781 Aelbert sent Alcuin to Frankland on a mission to king Charlemagne and, just before Easter on his way to Parma, he had caught up with the king's party. It was the second time he met the King of the Franks and King Charles had not forgotten the brilliant young man, because by that time Alcuin's scholarship was known throughout western Europe. Charles was looking for outstanding scholars to staff the palatine school he was developing in Aachen (Aken), attached to his Court. The Frankish king had great plans for the education of his people and not the least of his goals was the replacement of the indigenous "heathen" language of the Germans with an acceptable Christian one, free from verbal imagery associated with the still omnipresent Ashera religion. Alcuin refused Charlemagne's offer to become head of the palatine school at Aachen, a refusal which the king did not accept. He was in urgent need of an outstanding and strong-minded scholar with organizing ability and he knew he had found his man.

Associated with the school, Charles planned to start an Academy to train missionaries, priests and scholars, people badly needed if Christianity was the prevail. With Alcuin at the head of this educational institute, Charles was sure that his dream would become a reality. Alcuin's refusal caused the king to change his approach and he then contacted co-workers of Alcuin such as Eanbald, Elfwald and Willehad, who had no reservations about leaving York and willingly accepted. His co-workers having taken the big step to Aachen, this caused Alcuin to overcome his objections and he agreed to leave his comfortable life in England, his many friends and his beloved library to join the monarch. He had helped Aelbert build the best academy and library in Europe and the thought of leaving all that behind for the uncertainties of Charles' court was unnerving to him. He spent his last days in York writing his "Verses on the Saints of the Church of York" a long poem honoring the history of the great men in York's history in church and state. After that was done he declared himself ready to go. It was the year 782, Alcuin was 50 years old and a whole new life lay ahead of him.


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Edo Nyland 1996, revised November 1999.

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