[St. Pachomius Library]

Alcuin of York

VIII/IX Centuries
Born c. 732/35, Alcuin was educated at the cathedral school of York, of which he became master in 766. A deacon all of his career, he met Charlemagne in 781 and became a leading figure at the Frankish king's court, where he established schools and libraries. He was also Charlemagne's private tutor and counselor. Alcuin wrote poetry, including a elegy on the destruction of Lindisfarne, and hagiography, including the life of St. Willibrord of Utrecht. He introduced the customs of singing the creed and of observing All Saints' Day into the Frankish church; he was also responsible for the Romanization of the Gallic mass. At the council of Frankfurt (794), he presented arguments against the adoptionism of Felix of Urgel. One of his arguments included the use of the phrase filioque in the creed; the Eastern church holds Alcuin responsible for the propagation of its usage. Alcuin may have written the Libri Carolini, which attack the Seventh Oecumenical Council, and he may have supplemented the Gregorian sacramentary. Appointed abbot of the monastery of St. Martin of Tours in 796, Alcuin and his followers may have been the force behind Leo III's "surprise" coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, 800. Alcuin died four years later. His 300 surviving letters are an important source of history. His knowledge was considerable, but his originality was not.

Karen Rae Keck


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