Alcuin of York


One of the leading church figures and scholars of his day, Alcuin was born in York and joined the cathedral school under Archbishop Ecgbert. Interestingly, Alcuin did not become ordained, and there is no proof that he ever became a monk. It seems, rather, that his primary motivation was simply learning. The school focussed on liberal arts in addition to theology, and became known as a centre of learning. Alcuin became master of the school in 778 AD. 

In 781, King Elfwald asked Alcuin to go to Rome and appeal to the Pope to raise York to the status of an archbishopric. This Alcuin did, and on his way back to York he met Charlemagne at Parma. The two had met previously, but this time Charlemagne was able to persuade the scholar to join his court at Aachen.

This he did, and was responsible for what is now called the Carolingian Renaissance. His early pupils included Charlemagne himself, and his sons Pepin and Louis. He also exercised considerable influence with the king; he successfully convinced Charlemagne to abolish the death penalty for pagansim, famously declaring that 'Faith is a free act of the will, not a forced act. We must appeal to the conscience, not compel it by violence.'

Alcuin wrote numerous treatises on theology and dogma, but his works were not confined to religion; he also wrote poetry, mathematics, and works of grammar. Though his primary fame was as a scholar, Alcuin was a prominent theologian (in those days not much seperated the two disciplines!). He was responsible for the standard version of the Bible used throughout the medieval period. In 796 he was named as Bishop of Tours, and was the major influence behind getting Charlemagne crowned as emperor of the west in 800 AD. He died at Tours in 804 and was buried in the abbey church.

You may also see Alcuin referred to as Ealhwine, or by the Latin version of his name,  Alcuinus.

Time period(s): Saxon

Tags: Alcuin   Charlemagne   York   Ecgbert  

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