Alcuin, whose baptismal name was Albinus Flaccus Alcoinus and whose Saxon name was Ealh-wine, was born in Northumbria, England, in 735. An anonymous and highly hagiographical Vita, written between 823 and 829, tells of Alcuin's coming from a family of the local nobility but being “handed over as a young child [parvulus] to the mystical breasts of the Church as soon as he was weaned from the carnal breasts of his mother” (Migne, 100:91). Alcuin's entire formal schooling took place at the cathedral school of York, where his teacher was Aelberht, the future bishop of York (767-82). Alcuin succeeded Aelberht as master of the York school in 767, the year of Aelberht's consecration. Although he was a man of extraordinary piety and learning, Alcuin never advanced beyond the diaconate, to which he was ordained at York, no doubt in his early twenties. He owed his outstanding reputation at York well into middle age less to his official position in the Church than to the obvious quality of his mind and the patronage of Aelberht and other friends (Godman, xxxvi).
The turning point in his life came in 781, when he was sent on a mission from York to Rome by Archbishop Eanbald, successor to Archbishop Egbert, to request from the Apostolic See the episcopal pallium for Eanbald. Returning from Rome, he encountered Charlemagne at Parma. Charlemagne, who had met Alcuin before, invited him to join the Frankish court and to assist him in his attempt to renovate the Frankish schools. Alcuin accepted Charlemagne's offer, returned briefly to York to finish his mission there, and left for the Continent in 781 or 782, to be welcomed by Charlemagne in a fatherly way. He remained on the Continent until the end of his life, with the exception of two visits to England, in 786 and 790-93.
At Aachen, where Charlemagne settled his court in 794, Alcuin was “at the centre of that international élite of scholars and poets in whose work is cele-