Chapter 2


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.