Why Alcuin?

ALCUIN WAS AN IMPORTANT ENGLISH CHRISTIAN OF THE LATE 8TH AND EARLY 9TH CENTURIES, who spent his last years in Tours—as Abbot of S. Martin’s. Under his influence, the city added to its fame by becoming a significant intellectual and artistic centre.

Probably born in the year 735 in or near York, he entered the cathedral school there as a child, continued as a Scholar and eventually became Master. In 781 he went to Aachen, having been recruited by the emperor Charlemagne as an adviser on religious and educational matters and as Master of the Palace School, where he established an important library. He was a profound inspiration behind the Carolingian renaissance: he wrote poetry, compiled a sacramentary and was involved in other significant liturgical work, particularly the standardisation of the eucharistic rite.

In 796, when Alcuin decided to retire, Charlemagne appointed him Abbot of Tours, although not a monk and only in deacon’s orders. He remained here until he died.

Even though the community numbered over 200 monks, it was not very active, so Alcuin undertook to renew its prestige. He reformed the abbey school, creating two levels of study: one was elementary, the other consisted of the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). Students came to this from all over Europe. In the monastery he revived the scriptorium where copyists devised a cursive script—the first joined-up writing—which we would still recognise today. He also produced a revised version of the Vulgate Bible, which became the authorised text throughout the kingdom. He remained in close touch with Charlemagne who continued to seek his advice and visited him in Tours just before his coronation in December 800. Alcuin died on Whit Sunday, 19th May 804. As that day was already dedicated to St Dunstan, he is celebrated on the following day, 20th May.

After his death, Tours continued to be a thriving cultural centre and in 813 a council met in Tours which ruled that clergy should comment on the bible in French rather than Latin.

We are proud to continue in his tradition.

Eternal light, shine into our hearts,
eternal goodness, deliver us from evil,
eternal power, be our support,
eternal wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance,
eternal pity, have mercy upon us;
that with all our heart and mind and soul and strength
we may seek your face and be brought by your infinite mercy
to your holy presence,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.