Aldfrith, Aldhelm, and Adomnan

Continuing my report on Barbara Yorke’s 2009 Jarrow lecture, she spent quite a bit of time on the relationship between Aldfrith and two of his good friends, Adomman and Aldhelm. How remarkable that this half-Irish, half Northumbrian prince had such close contact with two of the greatest scholars of his time. Yorke notes that both scholars not only gave Aldfrith literature as a gift early in his reign, they gave him -original-works. It is remarkable enough that they would have sent him a book as a coronation gift but original works not only are necessarily rare (as they are unique when gifted) but a testament to their estimation of his intellect. We know he had prolonged contact with both of then. Adomman visited him within the last year of his life and his family contact with Wessex ensured continued contact with Aldhelm. Recall that Aldfrith married the sister of King Ine and a cousin of Aldhelm. The best evidence of their late contact is Pechtelm, Aldhelm’s deacon, becoming the first bishop of Whithorn. They may have cinflicted over Bishop Wilfrid who Aldhelm supported at least at the time of his first exile. I don’t know of any evidence on how Aldhelm thought of Wilfrid when exiled by Aldfrith. Come to think of it though, Aldhelm’s influence could have been behind Aldfrith’s initial attempt to reconcille with Wilfrid.

Yorke makes special note of Aldhelm’s menton that he was Aldfrith’s godfather. She wonders if this was a second baptism in the Roman rite and suggests that he was reminding Aldfrith that he was a witness to his Roman baptism if needed. Believing that Aldfrith had never been to Northumbria or acknowledged by Oswiu, she wonders if he got his English name at his Roman baptism and modeled the Ald- in his name from his friend and godfather Aldhelm. A way of showing spiritual brotherhood while each had an ending that suited their family, -helm for Wessex and -frith for Northumbria. Yorke only suggests the connection for the Ald- part, but if Aldfrith picked his own name then he picked one thar honored his friend and his family.

On Admnan she notes that Aldfrith was king when Adomnan engineered the passage of Cain Adomnan. She believes that Aldfrith’s release of hostages indicates that he ratified it, but I think that is going too far. Releasing hostages, possibly clerical hostages covered by the law (Cain/cannon), is a supportive gesture it is not the same as ratificatin or being a signatory. For one I don’t think that Aldfrith could sign an ecclesiastical law designed by Adomnan considering the were technically not in communion with each other. Yorke has apparently written a chapter in the forthcoming book on Adomnan that should be interesting to read.

Reference: Barbara Yorke, Rex Doctisdimus: Bede and King Aldfrith of Northumbria. Jarrow Lecture, 2009.


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