St. Aldhelm (c. 639–709)

St Aldhelm IllustrationOne of Maeldub’s pupils was Aldhelm, renowned for his scholarship across Europe. Aldhelm developed Maeldub’s school, built churches in Malmesbury and established the Benedictine monastic order here, gaining the support of both the Pope and King Ine of Wessex. Appointed the first Abbot of Malmesbury (c. 671–675), he oversaw the monastery for thirty years.

He was famed as an author; among his more renown works is “De Virginitate”(“About Virginity”) which he wrote first in prose for the Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking. A few years later he wrote a version in poetry.

It is related that he would woo visitors to Malmesbury by singing and playing the lute before preaching to them. He would often stand in the cold river and spring to subdue his flesh. St Aldhelm’s well still runs today and a field by the river is called St.Aldhelm’s mead.

Aldhelm has several miracles attributed to him and indeed miracles are a necessary prerequisite for Saintdom. One relates how coming into a building he threw off his cloak behind him expecting his servant to catch it; the servant was not there but when the saint turned round the cloak was hanging suspended on a sunbeam. Another miracle was while he was supervising a building it was found that a crucial roof beam was too short; Aldhem prayed; the beam was offered up again; and lo, it fitted exactly.

In 705 King Ine divided the Diocese of Wessex in two and appointed Aldhelm Bishop of Sherborne. Aldhelm held this office until his death on 25th May 709 – a date still celebrated locally. His body was returned to Malmesbury, where his shrine became an important site of pilgrimage, gaining a reputation for delivering miracles.

We know of Aldhelm’s life from three important figures. Alfred the Great describes how Aldhelm would sing and preach to those entering the town. Bede praises his Latin scholarship. William of Malmesbury, the eleventh century historian, refers to Aldhelm’s own writings.