Alcuin of York

Mayo Abbey, Co. Mayo in the West of Ireland

Alcuin was born c. 732 (three years before the death of Bede) and from c. 740 to c. 781 was a pupil and later a teacher and librarian at York.

Alcuin of York, as he was known, has been remembered as the chief architect of educational reform on the continent under Charlemagne. He was also the emperor's advisor and contributed greatly to the so-called Carolingian Renaissance.

Alcuin also modified the use of the Roman liturgy and his work is the direct ancestor of the liturgy used in Roman Catholic Church today.

In his "Admonitio Generalis" Alcuin drew up a curriculum for monastic and cathedral schools and standarised and recommended texts so that not only a uniform liturgy was used in the churches throughout christian Europe but a uniform doctrine was also taught in its schools.

He became abbot of Tours and died there in 804, four years after Charlemagne was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor.

Alcuin's correspondence survived the ravages of time and there are in existence letters he wrote to the monks in Mayo. In one, he addresses Bishop Leutfred, bishop in Mayo from 773 - 786, who seems to be facing the problem of violence. Alcuin writes:

"You should not agree to have anything to do with weapons of war. Throw yourself upon Christ's mercy, crying: 'My Love and my Stronghold, my Protector and Liberator, in whom my heart has put its hope". [Letter 32]

"The monks at Mayo were a great concern to Alcuin and he pays tribute to their missionary zeal: "Your love has always been precious to me. I always made sure to ask for it through your brothers who visited me, while I lived in my own country ... I know your service abroad ranks high with Christ our God. For it was for his name you left your own country to live abroad and submitted to persecution from wicked men." [Letter 33]

In his letters, Alcuin rejoices that the monastic life was thriving and he praises the monks in Ireland for their example:

"Hearing through a venerable brother, your teacher the bishop Dungal, that a monastic way of life well - pleasing to God flourishes among you. I confess I rejoiced greatly that in this diastrous end of a passing world the Lord Jesus has such men to praise his holy name and preach the truth and seek after wisdom as I hear the famous island has to this day."

There is also, among Alcuin's Irish letters, one addressed to Colcu, a teacher from Clonmacnoise who probably met Alcuin on a visit to Northumbria, which by the late 8th century was a major centre of learning Colcu may well have become abbot of the Irish branch of Colman's foundation on Inishbofin. This letter is a good example of how news reached remote parts of Europe:

"When I heard your reverence was well and prosperous, I confess I was glad in my heart. And thinking you interested in our journey and in recent doings in the world, I took steps to inform you of what I have seen and heard through this unpolished letter."