site's logo and link back to the English-speaking home page arrow back Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times
decorative picture .Jarrow School .Iona School .The Transition Between the Antiquity and the Western Culture

Jarrow School

pages decorative bandeau, reminder of the one of the main entry home page and the localized home page

the Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, Rome
the Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, Rome

England as a center of classical learning is mainly due to conversion of Anglo-Saxon England at the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th centuries. This conversion was mainly decided by 6th century great pope, Gregory the Great (Gregory I, 540-604)

When invaded by Anglo-Saxons, England was swept out of any christianity, and became a world of seven small kingdoms. Kent, Wessex, Northumbria, and Mercia were the most important. First main move about Christianity return came when king Aethelbehrt of Kent married a Merovingian princess; he allowed a bishop to come to his court. Then Pope Gregory the Great sent in 597 the monk Augustine to Kent. The king allowed the latter to preach from a monastery in Canterbury. King and his people eventually converted to Christianity, and Augustine became archbishop of Canterbury. Essex was then converted about 604. Missions spread to the north in the 620s, and missionary work kept along the 7th century. As it was the vow of Gregory the Great, the newly founded Church of England soon had tight ties with Rome. This was differentiating it greatly from existing Churches in the West as these ones were largely subdued to secular princes. Council of Whitby in 664 e.g. gave new Church to follow Roman rite

As far as learning proper is concerned, all began in 669 when Pope Vitalian sent Theodore of Tarsus as Archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore above all established the English dioceses, as until then the missionary work had yielded a monastic structure. As Theodore originated from the East, he was too largely in touch with the sources of classical culture. He had for assistants two people who were erudite themselves: Abbot Hadrian, and Biscop. Hadrian founded the Canterbury school. Biscop founded the twin monastery of St. Peter and St. Paul, at Wearmouth and Jarrow. Both supported greatly development of classical learning in England. England became a great place of Christian culture, superior to anything existing then. York school, where Alcuin was raised, is too related to this strongly Rome-linked Church of England. Continental Europe which until then had been a mission field for Irish monks, then became too the one of English missionaries

The scriptorium of Canterbury thus is sending copies of antique works towards the monasteries of England, with such varied subjects that arithmetics, astronomy, comput, medicine, metrics or exegesis). The other centers of the intellectual life in England are, for themselves, all located in Northumbria. One has thus to note that those northern kingdom of England, which are of a Jute and Angle settlement, are belonging to the era of influence of the Roman and Latin culture which had arrived, with St. Augustine in the kingdom of Kent, as a Saxon kingdom like Wessex is staying, until the times of St. Boniface, of an Irish influence! The cultural centers in Northumbria thus are Yarrow, Wearmouth, Ripon, York and Lindisfarne (even if, in that latter case, that monastery was an Irish foundation; the culture however developed under the general, Northumbrian trend). All those monasteries are having men and works to be brought from Rome. It's by the 8th century that England is reaching a strong culmination in terms of being the center for the culture of the Antiquity as declined on the mode of Rome and the Latin. What is making the English culture an original one lies in that the Anglo-Saxons people are not people of a Roman empire, and Latin culture, like the Italians, or Spaniards are! The scholars, in those latter cases, are related to a culture of the Antiquity which has tempered and which has been extended beyond the Roman empire, the dynamics of which is lying between an attachment to the Antiquity and the needs for an adaptation to the new people and realities of Europe. That, among other consequences, brings that culture is then an element of prestige, or a form of luxury. For the Saxons, at the contrary, the culture coming from the Antiquity and from Rome -along with the Latin language- do not are part of their cultural world and are thus considered by them like mere tools, the tools used for the sacred Scriptures and the liturgy. Culture, in those Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, is not a prestige, it's a working tool, or even of intellectual influence! The intellectual dynamism among the Saxons of England likely holds too to the aspect that England avoid to itself that long passage which occurred, in continental Europe, between the Roman empire and the first form of an European synthesis. Another consequence of those traits, which are totally specific to the kingdoms of England is that the Anglo-Saxon way of using the works and tools of the Antiquity is a very pragmatical one! They don't have any pecular reverence to those and they make their choices, among what's coming from the past, and keep only what can be useful. This is, for example, the case for the liberal arts, at the opposite of the large influence they have among the Irishmen. From the trivium, the Anglo-Saxon scholars are retrieving grammar only -the one by Donat- as grammar is the science allowing to write and to teach with clarity. And the same for the quadrivium, where they are keeping arithmetics and comput only, which allow to device the yearly, liturgical calendar. Even from the poetry of Antiquity, they just take the metrics, which they use for the Gregorian chant. As far as training the clerics into the Latin, they are writing glossaries due to that the Latin never was the language of the civilisational era of the North! The other branches of the arts, especially those of the trivium, like rethorics and dialectics, are suspected, further, to might be vectors of the pagan philosophy, thus of potentially being useful to some heretics. Boethius only, is sometimes rarely accepted, with his 'Consolatio Philosophiae'

The Anglo-Saxon culture, though, albeit very utilitaristic as far as the ancient Roman culture is concerned, did move however to a somewhat more profane stance, with such domains of interest like the canon law, History, chronology, geography, or astronomy. Such areas however obviously are hinting to some worry, or use of practicality, as they are means of handling one's environment. That intellectual curiosity, which likely was triggered, logically, by the sacred cultural work performed by the scholars, was not, on the other hand, like antagonistic to this sacred work and culture. It was likely because it was inprinted with such a practical sense. In continental Europe, at the opposite, as the history of the intellectual life was more complex, both fields of intellectual work never are mixed together. It's likely because, building on a ill-purified antique tradition, the interest of the scholars towards the lay domains of science mostly always tended to bring to speculative stances and writings

The most famed scholar in Anglo-Saxon England of the time, is, of course, the Venerable Bede, who was, in Wearmouth, a pupil to Biscop. He then became the master of the school in Jarrow, building there a work which is similar, for England, to the one Isidore of Sevilla had written in Spain -the work of who he compiled and he took back too his 'etymologic' method. He wrote an 'ecclesiastical' history of England -until by 731- a treaty of Natura Rerum. He revised Donat's grammar. He wrote works about orthograph, metrics, rethorics, or the comput, and a compilation of quotes at the usages of the predicators. Alcuin, on the other hand, was the master of the school of York. Les missionnaires anglo-saxons comme Boniface, se formèrent aux écoles irlandaises, réputées pour leur ascétisme, base de l'apostolat, et ils se soucièrent d'évangéliser leurs frères saxons dispersés sur le continent, y compris la Saxe même. Si les missions irlandaises avaient eu la précédence dans le temps, les Anglo-saxons avaient su y ajouter une organisation stable

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 8/23/2016. contact us at