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Celebrating the legacy of the Venerable Bede

The Revd Prof David Wilkinson

This is the transcript of the Revd Prof David Wilkinson’s ‘Thought For the Day’ on BBC Radio 4, 27th May 2024.

Good morning. Bank Holiday weekends are a time for celebration. Manchester was a sea of both blue and red as City celebrated the League and United their unexpected Cup triumph. Music lovers filled Luton for Radio 1’s Big Weekend. And today, the weather may even permit a few of us to have a barbecue!

Last year, this Bank Holiday in May, was dedicated by a group of friends to honour the lives of those who have died, especially during the pandemic. This ‘Celebration Day’ is happening again today, with a helpful encouragement to pause in the normal rhythm of life to remember those who have inspired us and all that they meant to us – to keep the lives of those important to us more present.

I was present over the weekend at another celebration. Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of the Venerable Bede in 735, and Durham Cathedral where is he buried is celebrating a thousand years since his body was brought from nearby Jarrow.  Monk and priest, Bede was a remarkable scholar, sometimes referred to as the father of English learning. He translated and wrote commentaries on the Bible, his Ecclesiastical History of the English People remains key in understanding Anglo-Saxon history, and he undertook chronological work both on the date of Easter and providing a consistent dating system moving forward from the birth of Christ. I’m fascinated that he also explored cosmology, the motion of the Earth and Sun, and how the Moon affected tides and their variation along a coast.

At the Cathedral service, we celebrated his life using his own songs of praise.  Professor Michelle Brown, author of Bede and the Theory of Everything, spoke of how Bede dug deep into history, the Bible and the natural world, convinced that Jesus pointed to a created world that was ordered. She also stressed his humanity in showing deep empathy for others, imitating the love of Jesus.

As I walked out of the Cathedral, I saw university students celebrating the end of exams alongside a camp where students of all faiths and none were protesting for peace and justice in Israel and Gaza.  I felt that this legacy of learning and desire to make the world a better place would have pleased Bede.

So on this Celebration Day, I will give thanks for the inspiration of Bede in my own life as a scientist and theologian, and pray for those who are desperate for peace and justice.  And I will pause to remember my former students Dani, Judith and Andy who are no longer with us.

For further reading, see our stories of Science and Faith 

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Article By The Revd Prof David Wilkinson

David is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University and has PhDs in astrophysics and systematic theology.

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