Saint of the Day – 25 May – St Aldhelm of Sherborne (640-709) Confessor, Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey and Bishop of Sherborne, England. Latin Scholar and Poet and Ecclesiastical writer. Born in 640 in England and died on 25 May 709 at Doulting, Somerset, England of natural causes. Also known as – Adhelm, Aldelmus, Ealdhelm, Ældhelm, Adelelmus, Adelme.
The Roman Martyrology states: “In England, Saint Aldelmo, Bishop, who, famous for his doctrine and writings, former Abbot of Malmesbury, was later Ordained as the first Bishop of Sherborne among the western Saxons.”
Aldhelm was of Royal blood, the son of Kenten, who was of the Royal House of Wessex, a kinsman of of Ine, the King of Wessex. He received his first education in the school of the Irish Scholar, Missionary and Monk, St Maeldulph of Malmersbury Abbey. Aldhelm himself attributes his progress in letters to the famous St Adrian, formerly a Monk of Monte Cassino, who came to England in the train of Archbishop Theodore and was made Abbot of St Augustine’s Monastery, Canterbury. Aldhelm addresses St Adrian as the ‘venerable preceptor of my rude childhood.‘
Ill health compelled Aldhelm to leave Canterbury and he returned to Malmesbury Abbey, where he was a Monk under St Maeldulph for fourteen years, dating probably from 661 and including the period of his studies with St Adrian.
When St Maeldulph died our Saint succeeded him both in the direction of the Malmesbury School and also as Abbot of the Monastery; but the exact dates given by some of the Saint’s biographers cannot be trusted, since they depend upon charters of very doubtful authenticity. As Abbot his life was most austere and it is particularly recorded of him that he was wont to recite the entire Psalter standing up to his neck in ice-cold water.
From being the companion of the Monks in their studies, Aldhelm soon became their teacher and his reputation for learning spread so rapidly that the small society gathered around him at Malmesbury was increased by scholars from France and Scotland. Under his rule, the Abbey of Malmesbury prospered so greatly that new Monasteries were founded from it and a Chapel dedicated to St Lawrence, built by Aldhelm in the village of Bradford-on-Avon, is standing to this day and here it is below.
During the Pontificate of Pope Sergius (687-701), the Saint visited Rome and is said to have brought back from the Pope, a privilege of exemption for his Monastery.
At the request of a Synod, held in Wessex, Aldhelm wrote a letter to the Britons of Devon and Cornwall upon the Paschal question, by which many of them are said to have been brought back to unity. In the year 705 Hedda, Bishop of the West Saxons, died and, his Diocese, being divided, the western portion was assigned to Aldhelm, who reluctantly became the first Bishop of Sherborne.
His Episcopate was short in duration. Some of the stone-work of a Church he built at Sherborne still remains. Aldhelm was on his rounds in his Diocese when he died at the Church in Doulting village in 709, the Church of St Aldhelm and St Aldhelm’s Well there are highly venerated to this day. There are at least 14 Churches dedicated to St Aldhelm across England. His body was conveyed to Malmesbury, a distance of fifty miles and crosses were erected along the way at each halting place where his remains rested for the night. Many miracles were attributed to the Saint both before and after his death. His Feast was on 25 May and in 857 King Ethelwulf erected a magnificent silver Shrine at Malmesbury in his honour.
“Aldhelm was the first Englishman who cultivated classical learning with any success and the first of whom any literary remains are preserved” (Stubbs).
Both from Ireland and from the Continent, men wrote to ask him questions on points of learning. His chief prose work is a treatise, “De laude virginitatis – In praise of virginity” which Aldhelm afterwards versified. The prose treatise on virginity was dedicated to the Abbess and Nuns of Barking, a community which seems to have included more than one of the Saint’s own relatives.
Besides the tractate on the Paschal controversy already mentioned, several other letters of Aldhelm are preserved. A few shorter extant poems are interesting, like all Aldhelm’s writings, for the light which they throw upon religious thought in England at the close of the seventh Century. We are struck by the writer’s earnest devotion to the Mother of God, by the veneration paid to the Saints and notably to S. Peter, “the key-bearer,” by the importance attached to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mas, to prayer for the dead and by the esteem in which he held the monastic profession.
2 thoughts on “Saint of the Day – 25 May – St Aldhelm of Sherborne (640-709) Confessor, Abbot, Bishop”
loved your post.
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Thank you for sharing the inspiring story of St Aldhelm. His commitment to scholarship, monasticism, and serving his community is truly admirable.
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Thank you dear Ely!
I must say I agree with your words of praise of our dear Saint Aldhelm today – such zeal and devotion.
Where are all these great men now – besides our wonderful Saints in Heaven – are there any left on earth?
Bless you Ely 🙏🙌