ALCUIN
of
Y
ORK
(ca. 740-804) 
 

 

ALCUIN (c.740–804), a major contributor to the Carolingian Renaissance. A native of Northumberland, he was educated at the cathedral school of York. Under Aelberht, Bishop (767–73) and Archbishop (773–78) of York, he visited Rome and the Frankish court and helped create a library at the cathedral, the contents of which are evoked in his poem ‘On the Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York’. Following a meeting with Charlemagne at Parma in 781 he was invited to join his court and the scholars already there. He was in England in 786 and again in 790–93, but, whether reluctantly or not, France was his normal country of residence until his death in 804. From 796 he was Abbot of St Martin’s at Tours.

    A competent and versatile scholar, he appears to have had a particular talent for instruction, and both at the court and at Tours he played an important role in developing the resources of contemporary ecclesiastical culture. His extant literary production includes a quantity of biblical exegesis; a major work on the Trinity; three treatises directed against the Adoptianism of Felix of Urgel, whom he opposed in person at the Council of Aachen in 799 or 800; moral and philosophical writings; ‘Lives’ of the saints Willibrord, Vedast, Richarius, and Martin (the last of these in verse); manuals of grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, orthography, and mathematics; an abundant correspondence (mainly from the period after 793); and poems on a wide variety of subjects.

   As Abbot of St Martin’s, Alcuin supervised the production of several pandects (or complete editions) of the Bible written in a fully developed ‘Caroline minuscule’; his preference for the Vulgate text probably contributed to its final acceptance in the W. At different times in his career he also revised the Roman Lectionary and adapted the Gregorian Sacramentary for use in Gaul by incorporating certain Gelasian elements and adding a series of votive and festal Masses of his own composition. (The supplement to the Sacramentary sent by Pope Hadrian I to Charlemagne, known as the ‘Hucusque’, which was long attributed to Alcuin, is now thought to be the work of Benedict of Aniane.)


Works ed. by A. Quercetanus (Paris, 1617) and Frobenius Forster (2 vols., Ratisbon, 1777), repr. in J. P. Migne, PL 100 and 101. Critical edns. of poems by E. Dümmler in MGH, Poetae Latini Medii Aevi, 1, pt. 1 (1880), of letters by id. in MGH, Epistolae, 4 (1895), pp. 1–493, of Liber contra haeresim Felicis by G. B. Blumenshine (ST 285; 1980), and of ‘The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York’ by P. Godman (Oxford Medieval Texts, 1982), with Eng. tr. and valuable introd. Alcuin’s votive Masses ed. by J. Deshusses, OSB, in Archiv für Liturgiewissenschaft, 14 (1972), pp. 7–41. Text of a book of private prayers, attributable to Alcuin or to a member of his circle, ed. A. Wilmart, OSB, Precum Libelli Quattuor Aevi Karolini, 1 (Rome, 1940), pp. 9–30. Selections from his letters in Eng. tr. by S. Allot (York, 1974). There is an early Life of Alcuin written between 823 and 829, pr. among his works (J. P. Migne, PL 100, cols. 89–106) and critically ed. by W. Arndt in MGH, Scriptores, 15, pt. 1 (1887), pp. 182–97. Modern biographies by C. J. B. Gaskoin (London, 1904), A. Kleinclausz (Annales de l’Université de Lyon, 3rd ser., fasc. 15; Paris, 1948), and E. S. Duckett (New York, 1951). M. Roger, L’Enseignement des letters classiques d’Ausone à Alcuin (1905), pp. 313–402, 440–8. A. Wilmart, OSB, ‘Le lectionnaire d’Alcuin’, EL 51 (1937), pp. 136–97. W. Levison, England and the Continent in the Eighth Century (Oxford, 1946), esp. pp. 148–73. B. Fischer, OSB, Die Alkuin Bibel (Aus der Geschichte der lateinischen Bibel, 1; Freiburg i. Br., 1957). G. Ellard, SJ, Master Alcuin, Liturgist (Chicago, 1956). L. Wallach, Alcuin and Charlemagne: Studies in Carolingian History and Literature (Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 32; Ithaca, NY, 1959). B. Bischoff (ed.), Karl der Grosse: Lebenswerk und Nachleben, 2: Das geistige Leben (Düsseldorf, 1965). W. Heil, Alkuinstudien, 1: Zur Chronologie und Bedeutung des Adoptianismusstreites (Düsseldorf, 1970). J. Deshusses, OSB, ‘Les anciens sacramentaires de Tours’, R. Bén. 89 (1979), pp. 281–302, with refs. to other arts. by this scholar. J. Marenbon, From the Circle of Alcuin to the School of Auxerre: Logic, Theology and Philosophy in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 30–66. D. A. Bullough, ‘Alcuin and the Kingdom of Heaven’, in U.-R. Blumenthal (ed.), Carolingian Essays (Washington, DC [1983]), pp. 1–69; repr. in Bullough, Carolingian Renewal: Sources and Heritage (Manchester and New York, 1991), pp. 161–240. M. S. Driscoll, Alcuin et la pénitence à l’époche carolingienne (Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen, 81 [1999]). D. Schaller in Verfasserlexikon (2nd edn.), 1 (1978), cols. 241–53; W. Heil in TRE 2 (1978), pp. 266–76, both s.v. ‘Alkuin’, with bibl.

 


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