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Edfrith

(d. 721)


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St Cuthbert (d. 687) bishop of Lindisfarne

Bede (c. 673—735) monk, historian, and theologian

Aldhelm (c. 639—709) abbot of Malmesbury, bishop of Sherborne, and scholar

St Aidan (d. 651) Irish missionary

 

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(d. 721),

monk and bishop of Lindisfarne. Little is known of Edfrith before he became bishop in 698, except that he studied in Ireland, and was a well-trained scribe, artist, and calligrapher, for it seems almost certain that he alone wrote the Lindisfarne Gospels, a masterpiece of Northumbrian illumination, now in the British Library, in honour of Cuthbert, before and perhaps during his episcopate. In the planning and execution of this task, which must have taken at least two years, he showed extraordinary scholarly as well as artistic qualities. He welcomed the new text of the Gospels and the new lay-out, both of which came from Wearmouth–Jarrow and eventually Italy; he provided Evangelist portraits as a creative artist in a field of Mediterranean expertise, but he also excelled in insular majuscule script and Irish geometric and zoomorphic decoration of extraordinary delicacy and accuracy. The uniting of all these elements in a single manuscript is a testimony not only to Edfrith's all-round ability as ‘the first personality in English art-history’ but also to the fusion of Roman and Irish elements in Northumbria less than thirty-five years after the Synod of Whitby.

Edfrith's known achievements as bishop of Lindisfarne are largely associated with Cuthbert. To him was dedicated the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert and it was he who invited Bede to write his Prose Life of Cuthbert also. He restored Cuthbert's oratory on the Inner Farne Island for the use of Felgild. Some time during the reign of Osred (705–16) Eanmund, a Northumbrian monastic founder, consulted Edfrith about his monastery and borrowed from him a priest to draw up a rule and instruct the monks. He may too have been the Edfrid to whom Aldhelm addressed a letter. When Edfrith died he was buried near Cuthbert's tomb: his relics, with those of Aidan, Edbert, Ethilwald, etc., were taken with Cuthbert's in their wanderings through Northumbria from 875 to 995, when they reached Durham. When Cuthbert's body was translated to the new cathedral in 1104, Edfrith's relics were buried there too, but in a different site. His cult, with those of the other early bishops of Lindisfarne, was commemorated in a Durham feast of 4 June ‘Translacio episcoporum Dunelmensium’, dating from the 14th century, or before.

C. Plummer (ed.), Baedae Opera Historica, i. (1896), pp. cv, cxlviii; ii. 297–8;B. Colgrave (ed.), Two Lives of St Cuthbert (1940), pp. 310–11; Symeon of Durham, Opera (R.S.), i. 57, 252, 265–94;Aldhelmi Opera (ed. R. Ehwald), M.G.H., Auct. Ant. (1919), 486–7;T. D. Kendrick and others, Codex Lindisfarnensis, ii (1960), 16–20, 288–95;F. Henry, ‘Codex Lindisfarnensis’, Antiquity, xxxvii (1963), 100–10.

Subjects: Christianity.


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