Saint of the Day – 20 October – Saint Acca (c 660-742) Bishop, Abbot, Missionary, Theologian, Musician – born in c 660 in Northumbria, England and died on 20 October 742 at Whithorn, Galloway, Scotland of natural causes. Patronage – learning.
During his youth, St Acca first served in the household of Bosa, the future Bishop of York and a student of St Wildrid. After meeting St Wilfrid (c 633-710), possibly as early as 678, St Acca joined him and accompanied him on his missionary travels. Later he told his friend, St Bede the Venerable, of their stay at Utrecht with the Saint Archbishop Willibrord, Wilfrid’s old pupil who was carrying on his work of converting continental heathens. Their missionary journeys together lasted for 13 years.
On the return from their second journey to Rome in 692, Wilfrid was reinstated at Hexham and made Acca the Abbot of St Andrew’s monastery there. During Wilfrid’s later years, Acca was the older man’s loyal companion, eventually succeeding him in 709 as Abbot and Bishop.
St Acca approached his duties with much energy, in ruling the Diocese and in conducting the services of the church. He also carried on the work of church building and decorating started by Wilfrid. St Bede left a glowing account of the work Acca did during the quarter of a century when he led the community at Hexham. He adorned the church with paintings, sculpture and rich hangings, he gathered sacred relics and built side-chapels to house them, he created a library of godly books, he brought from Kent a skilled teacher of Gregorian chant named Maban, to ensure that the music and liturgy of the church were as fine as any in Europe.
Acca was both an accomplished musician himself and a learned theologian. St Bede describes Acca as “…a most experienced cantor, most learned in sacred writings …and thoroughly familiar with the rules of ecclesiastical custom.”
He was known also for his encouragement of students by every means in his power. It was Acca who persuaded Fr Stephen of Ripon, a Priest, to write the Life of St Wilfrid and he lent many materials for the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum to Bede, who dedicated several of his most important works, especially those dealing with Holy Scripture, to him.
For reasons now unknown Acca either withdrew, or was driven from, his Diocese in 732. Hexham tradition says he became bishop of Whithorn in Galloway, Scotland, while others claim he founded a see on the site of St Andrews, bringing with him relics collected on his Roman tour, including those of St Andrew. Yet a third account states that having fallen out with the Northumbrian king, Acca went to live in exile in Ireland on a remote coast before returning to Hexham. St Andrew’s Church in Aycliffe is said to have been once dedicated to Acca.
Acca was buried at Hexham near the east wall of the abbey. Two finely carved crosses, fragments of one of which still remain, were erected at the head and foot of his grave. He was revered as a saint immediately after his death. His body was translated at least three times – in the early 11th century, by Alfred of Westow, sacrist of Durham, in 1154, at the restoration of the church, when the relics of all the Hexham saints were put together in a single shrine and again in 1240. His feast day is 20 October. The translation of his relics is commemorated on 19 February.
The only surviving writing of St Acca is a letter addressed to Bede and printed in St Bede’s work.