The Venerable Bede from a manuscript in the British Library
From a Letter on the Death of the Venerable Bede
By St Cuthbert
(Nn. 4-6: PL 90, 64-66)
On Tuesday before the feast of the Ascension, Bede’s breathing became labored and a slight swelling appeared in his legs. Nevertheless, he gave us instruction all day long and dictated cheerfully the whole time. It seemed to us, however, that he knew very well that his end was near, and so he spent the whole night giving thanks to God.
At daybreak on Wednesday he told us to finish the writing we had begun. We worked until nine o’clock, when we went in procession with the relics as the custom of the day required. But one of our community, a boy named Wilbert, stayed with him and said to him, “Dear master, there is still one more chapter to finish in that book you were dictating. Do you think it would be too hard for you to answer any more questions?” Bede replied: “Not at all; it will be easy. Take up your pen and ink, and write quickly,” and he did so.
At three o’clock, Bede said to me, “I have a few treasures in my private chest, some pepper, napkins, and a little incense. Run quickly and bring the priest of our monastery, and I will distribute among them these little presents that god has given me.”
When the priests arrived he spoke to them and asked each one to offer Masses and prayers for him regularly. They gladly promised to do so. The priests were sad, however, and they all wept, especially because Bede had said that he thought they would not see his face much longer in this world. Yet they rejoiced when he said, “If it so please my Maker, it is time for me to return to him who created me and formed me out of nothing when I did not exist. I have lived a long time, and the righteous Judge has taken good care of me during my whole life. The time has come for my departure, and I long to die and be with Christ. My soul yearns to see Christ, my King, in all his glory.” He said many other things which profited us greatly, and so he passed the day joyfully till evening.
When evening came, young Wilbert said to Bede, “Dear master, there is still one sentence that we have not written down.” Bede said, “Quick, write it down.” In a little while, Wilbert said, “There; now it is written down.” Bede said, “Good. You have spoken the truth; it is finished. Hold my head in your hands, for I really enjoy sitting opposite the holy place where I used to pray; I can call upon my Father as I sit there.”
And so Bede, as he lay upon the floor of his cell, sang, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.” And when he had named the Holy Spirit, he breathed his last breath. We believe most firmly that Bede has now entered into the joy of the heaven he longed for, since his labors here on earth were always dedicated to the glory of God.