Posted by: anna | December 2, 2009

St Ecgbert, Archbishop of York

Today we commemorate St Egbert or or Ecgberht or Ecgbeorht, archbishop of York (766), whose name and title scan perfectly as the first line of a limerick. The alternate Old English (Anglo-Saxon) spellings make me think we should be pronouncing his name Edge-bert rather than Egg-bert. As a former student (of medieval subjects, though not this period) in York, and specifically in the Library at York Minster, I must pay particular attention to the founder of learning in York, and the Minster Library. Alcuin is often spoken of in that position – I had never heard of Egbert before!

I am driven on this occasion to quote Wikipedia, as the Rev. Baring-Gould does not even mention him:
He was the son of Eata, who was descended from the founder of the kingdom of Bernicia. His brother Eadberht was king of Northumbria from 737 to 758. Ecgbert went to Rome with another brother, and was ordained deacon while still in Rome. He studied under Bede, who visited him in 733 at York.

Ecgbert was named to the see of York in 734 by his cousin Ceolwulf, the king of Northumbria. Pope Gregory III sent him a pallium, the symbol of an archbishop’s authority, in 735. Alcuin as a child was given to Ecgbert, and was educated at the school at York that Ecgbert founded. Liudger, later the first bishop of Munster, and Aluberht, another bishop in Germany, both studied at the school in York. Bede wrote him a letter, dealing with monastic issues as well as the problems of large dioceses. Bede urged Ecgbert to study Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Care. Bede’s admonition to divide up dioceses, however, fell on deaf ears, as Egbert did not break up his large diocese. The suffragans continued to be limited to the bishops of Hexham, Lindisfarne, and Whithorn.

The monastic problems came from the secular practice of families setting up monasteries that were totally under their control as a way of making the family lands book-land and free from secular service. Book-land was at first an exclusive right of ecclesiastical property. By transferring land to a family-controlled monastery, the family would retain the use of the land without having to perform any services to the king for the land. Ecgbert wrote the Dialogus ecclesiasticae institutionis, which was basically a legal law code for the clergy, setting forth the proper procedures for many clerical and eccleisastical issues including weregild for clerics, entrance to clerical orders, deposition from the clergy, criminal monks, clerics in court, and other matters. It details a code of conduct for the clergy and how the clergy was to behave in society. The historian Simon Coates saw the Dialogues as not especially exalting monks above the laity. Other works were attributed to him in the Middle Ages, but they are not regarded by modern scholars as his. These include the Excarpsum de canonibus catholicorum patrum, as well as a pentitential and a pontifical.

Saint Boniface wrote to him, asking for support against Ethelbald of Mercia. Boniface also asked the archbishop for some of Bede’s books, and in return sent wine to be drunk “in a merry day with the brethren.” The school he founded at York is held by the modern historian Peter Hunter Blair to have equalled or surpassed the famous monasteries at Wearmouth and Jarrow.

Ecgbert died on 19 November 766.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Holy St Ecgbert, pray to God for us.

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