Aldhelm was born in Wessex, in AD 639. He was apparently a ‘nephew’ of King Ine, probably, in fact, a cousin of some kind. His father’s name was Centa, and it has been suggested that this was a pet name for Ine’s sometime predecessor, King Centwin, who died in AD 685. This would make him a brother of St. Edburga of Minster-in-Thanet. When but a boy, Aldhelm was sent to school under Adrian, Abbot of St. Augustine’s, Canterbury and soon excited the wonder, even of his teachers, by his progress in the study of Latin and Greek. When somewhat more advanced in years, however, he returned to his native land of Wessex.
After his return to Wessex, Aldhelm joined the community of scholars which had become established at Malmesbury, in Wiltshire, under St. Maeldulph; in imitation of whom, he embraced the monastic life. His stay was not, however, of Iong duration. He made a second visit to Kent and continued to attend the school of St. Adrian, until sickness compelled him to revisit the country of the West Saxons. He again sought the greenwood shades of Malmesbury and, after a lapse of three years, he wrote a letter to his old master Adrian, describing the studies in which he was occupied and pointing out the difficulties which he still encountered.
This was in AD 680. From being the companion of the monks in their studies, Aldhelm soon became their teacher and his reputation for learning spread so rapidly that the small society gathered around him at Malmesbury was increased by scholars from France and Scotland. He is said to have been able to write and speak Greek, to have been fluent in Latin and able to read the Old Testament in Hebrew. At this period, the monks and scholars appear to have formed only a voluntary association, held together by similarity of pursuits and the fame of their teacher. They do not appear to have been subjected to rules. How Iong they continued to live in this manner is uncertain. However, around AD 683, either at their own solicitation or by the will of the West Saxon monarch and the bishop, they were formed into a regular monastery under the rule of St. Benedict. Aldhelm was appointed their abbot.
Under Aldhelm, the abbey of Malmesbury continued, long, to be a seat of piety as well as learning and was enriched with many gifts by the West Saxon kings and nobles. Its abbot founded smaller houses in the neighbourhood, at Frome and Bradford-on-Avon. His church at the latter survives almost completely intact. At Malmesbury, Aldhelm found a small, but ancient, church, then in ruins, which he rebuilt, or repaired, and dedicated it to SS. Peter and Paul, the favourite saints of the Anglo-Saxons around that time. His biographers have preserved the verses which Aldhelm composed to celebrate its consecration.
Aldhelm was not a voluminous writer. The works, which alone have given celebrity to his name, are his two treatises on Virginity and his Aenigmata. He may, however, be considered the father of Anglo-Latin poetry; though he also composed in Anglo-Saxon. King Alfred the Great placed him in the first rank of the vernacular poets of his country and we learn, from William of Malmesbury, that, even as late as the 12th century, some ballads he had composed continued to be popular. To be a poet, it was then necessary to be a musician also and Aldhelm’s biographers assure us that he excelled on all the different instruments then in use: the harp, fiddle and pipes included. Long after he became Abbot of Malmesbury, Aldhelm appears to have devoted much of his leisure time to music and poetry. King Alfred entered into his notebook, an anecdote which is peculiarly characteristic of the age and which probably belongs to the period that preceded the foundation of the Abbey. Aldhelm observed, with pain, that the peasantry, instead of assisting as the monks sung mass, ran about from house to house gossiping and could hardly be persuaded to attend to the exhortations of the preacher. Aldhelm watched the occasion and stationed himself, in the character of a minstrel, on the bridge over which the people had to pass. Soon he had collected a crowd of hearers, by the beauty of his verse, and, when he found that grabbed their attention, he gradually introduced, among the popular ballads he was reciting to them, words of a more serious nature. At length, he succeeded in impressing upon their minds a truer feeling of religious devotion; “Whereas if,” as William of Malmesbury observes, “he had proceeded with severity and excommunication, he would have made no impression whatever upon them.”
Few details of the latter part of Aldhelm’s life have been preserved. We know that his reputation continued to be extensive. After he had been made Abbot of Malmesbury, he received an invitation from Pope Sergius I to visit Rome, and he is supposed to have accompanied Caedwalla, King of the West Saxons, who was baptized by that Pope, and died in the Eternal City in AD 689. He did not, however, remain abroad for long.
In AD 692, Aldhelm appears, from his letter on the subject quoted by his biographers, to have taken part, to a certain degree, in St. Wilfred’s great controversy against the Celtic usages of the Northumbrian Church. Soon after this, he is found employed in the same dispute about the celebration of Easter, with the Britons of Cornwall. A synod was called by King Ine, about AD 700, to attempt a reconciliation between the remains of the ancient British Church in the extreme west with the Anglo-Saxon Church, and Aldhelm was appointed to write a letter on the subject to King Gerren of Dumnonia (by then reduced to Cornwall), which is still preserved. Five years later, upon the death of St. Haedda, the Bishopric of Wessex was divided into two dioceses, of which one, that of Sherborne, was given to St. Aldhelm, who appears to have been allowed to retain, at the same time, the Abbacy of Malmesbury. He soon rebuilt the church at Sherborne in fitting cathedral style, as well as helping to establish the nunnery of St. Mary at Wareham. He built churches at Langton Matravers and the Royal palace at Corfe; and the present Norman chapel on the windswept promontory of St. Aldhelm’s Head, no doubt, replaces a Saxon original.
Not long afterwards, on the 25th May AD 709, Aldhelm died at Doulting in Somerset. His body was carried to Malmesbury, where it was buried in the presence of Egwin, Bishop of Worcester. Stone crosses were placed as markers every seven miles along the route between the two towns and it was not long before his body was placed in a magnificent shrine and reverred as a saint.
INTROIT Ecclesiasticus 45: 30
The Lord made to him a covenant of peace, and made him a prince: that the dignity of priesthood should be to him for ever. (Ps. 131: 1) O Lord, remember David: and all his meekness. v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Repeat, The Lord made to him a covenant of peace…
Grant, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that the august solemnity of Thy blessed confessor and pontiff, Aldhelm, may increase our devotion and promote our salvation. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever. R.Amen.
Commemoratio Urban pope and martyr
O God, Who firmly established Your Church upon the rock of the apostle and delivered her from the dreadful powers of hell, grant, we beseech You, that through the intercession of blessed Urban, Your Martyr and Supreme Pontiff, she may remain faithful to Your truth so as to be always safe under Your protection.
for the Church
Mercifully hear the prayers of thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, that all adversities and errors being overcome, she may serve thee in security and feedom. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
EPISTLE Wisdom (Ecclesiasticus) 44: 16-27; 45: 3-20
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom. Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God, and was found just; and in the time of wrath was made a reconciliation. There was not any found like to him, who kept the law of the Most High. Therefore by an oath the Lord made him increase among his people. He gave him the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in His blessings: He preserved for him His mercy: and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord. He glorified him in the sight of kings, and gave him a crown of glory. He made an everlasting covenant with him; and gave him a great priesthood; and made him blessed in glory. To execute the office of the priesthood and to have praise in his name, and to offer to him worthy incense for an odour of sweetness.
Behold a great priest, who in his days pleased God. V. (Eccl. 44: 20) There was not any found like to him, who kept the law of the Most High. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ps 109: 4 ) Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech. Alleluia. V. This is the priest whom the Lord hath crowned. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 25:14-23
At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to His disciples: A man going abroad, called his servants and handed over his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his particular ability, and then he went on his journey. And he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more. In like manner, he who had received the two gained two more. But he who had received the one went away and dug in the earth and hid his master’s money. Then after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; behold, I have gained five others in addition.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many; enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had received the two talents came, and said, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; behold, I have gained two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many; enter into the joy of your master.’
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Psalm 88:21-22
I have found David, My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, that My hand may be always with him, and that My arm may make him strong.
By the offered gifts we beseech thee, O Lord, that thou kindly enlighten thy Church, so that thy flock may everywhere progress and prosper, and thy shepherds, under thy guidance may be pleasing to thy name. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
Commemoratio Urban pope and martyr
In Your loving kindness, O Lord, accept the gifts we joyously offer, and through the intercession of blessed Urban, grant that Your Church may enjoy purity of faith and rejoice in the tranquility of peaceful times.
for the Church
Protect us, O Lord, who celebrate thy mysteries, that holding fast to divine things, we may serve thee with body and soul. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Luke 12:42
The faithful and prudent servant whom the master will set over his household to give them their ration of grain in due time.
Being appeased, O Lord, guide thy Church, which has been nourished by holy refreshment, that under thy direction and powerful rule it may receive increase of liberty and may continue in religious integrity. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
Commemoratio Urban pope and martyr
Increase within Your Church, we beseech You, O Lord, the gift of grace You have given her, and through the prayers of blessed Urban, Your Martyr and Supreme Pontiff, may flock never fail in obedience to the shepherd nor the shepherd in the faithful care of his flock.
for the Church
We beseech thee, O Lord, our God, that thou permit not those, to whom thou hast given a participation of divine things to be subjected to human dangers. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.