The Schools of Medieval England

By A. F. Leach | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THEODORE OF TARSUS AND ALDHELM OF WINCHESTER

IT is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. By a curious chance, it is to the first great recorded outbreak in Europe of the bubonic plague that England owes the name most famous in the history of its early schools, that of the Greek Archbishop, Theodore of Tarsus; just as to the second and third great outbreaks, the Black Death and the Secunda Pestis of 1349 and 1361, it owes its most famous "Public" School, Winchester College. After the death of Archbishop Deusdedit, the first native English archbishop, in 664, Wighard, "a good man and a fit priest," was nominated by the Kings of Kent and Northumberland as his successor and sent to Rome for consecration. There the plague caught and carried off him and all his party. So the Pope first offered the vacant post to Hadrian, an African, a monk in the Niridane monastery near Naples, "brought up alike in monastic and ecclesiastical learning"--a distinction all important in the early history of schools--"and of the greatest skill in both the Greek and Latin tongues". Greek was no doubt still the vernacular of the towns of Southern Italy. Hadrian modestly declined the office, and suggested first a monk of a neighbouring monastery, who proved to be too fat, and then "a native of Tarsus in Cilicia, named Theodorus, a man instructed both in secular and divine literature, Greek and Latin, and of venerable age"--he was already sixty-six years old-- who accepted the office. By an odd coincidence of name, this Greek Deusdedit, this foreigner, who would nowadays be superannuated from the Civil Service and from the mastership of any public school, proved one of the most active archbishops who ever sat on the throne of Canterbury. Theodore being

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