ALDHELM (EALDHELM), SAINT
Abbot of Malmesbury and first bishop of Sherborne; b. probably at Brokenborough (2 m. n.w of Malmesbury), Wiltshire, between 639 and 645; d. at Doulting (7 mi. s.e. of Wells), Somersetshire, May 25, 709. He was of royal family on both his father's and mother's side, studied with Maildulf (Maelduib), an Irish hermit, at Malmesbury (Maildulfsburg), and remained there as monk for fourteen years. In 670 and again in 672 he attended the school of Canterbury and laid the foundations of his many-sided knowledge under the instruction of Archbishop Theodore and his associate Hadrian. In 675 he succeeded Maildulf as abbot at Malmesbury, and as such increased the possessions of the monastery, spread abroad the faith, and founded many stone churches, after the fashion of Canterbury, in place of the small wooden ones. In 705 the bishopric of the West Saxons was divided, Aldhelm being made bishop of the western part with his seat at Sherborne (in northwestern Dorsetshire, 18 m. n. of Dorchester). He retained his abbacy. He was buried at Malmesbury, but his remains were often translated. He was canonized in 1080.
Aldhelm was one of the most learned men of his time, and he occupies a distinguished place among early British scholars. He represented both the Iro-Scottish and the Roman ecclesiastical culture, and had an acquaintance with classical authors like Homer and Aristotle, as well as with neo-Christian writers such as Prudentius and Sedulius. His works abound in Greek and Latin words, and his style is bombastic. Besides philology, poetry, music, astronomical calculations, and the like occupied him, and he is said to have written popular hymns. He made Malmesbury a rival of Canterbury as a seat of learning, and princes, abbesses, monks, and nuns from far and near were among his admirers. He is said to have visited Rome during the pontificate of Sergius (687-701) and to have returned with relics, books, and a grant of privileges for his monastery. He supported Wilfrid of York (q.v.) against his enemies, and was prominent in urging the Britons to conform to the Roman tonsure and Easter.
Besides briefer letters, preserved (often only in fragments) by Lul of Mainz, Aldhelm's works include treatises in epistolary form and poems, viz.: (1) an Epistola ad Acircium (King Aldfrid) concerning the number seven, riddles, versification, and the like; (2) an Epistola ad Geruntium (a Welsh prince, Geraint) concerning the Easter question; (3 and 4) a prose work and a poem in praise of virginity, addressed to the abbess and nuns of Barking, closing with a description of eight vices, which contains thrusts at Anglo-Saxon conditions. To his treatise on riddles he added 100 specimens dealing with nature and art, which are full of a feeling for nature, being herein a prototype of such of his countrymen as Tatwin and Boniface. In his letter to Geraint he holds as worthless good works without connection with the Roman Church. His poetry is flowery, involved, and alliterative. His chief merit was the extension of the faith in the south of England, the education of his native land, and his literary influence on the Continent.