Alcuin (Old English, Ealhwine) was born in Northumberland around 735 into a noble family related to Willibrord, the first missionary to the Frisians. Alcuin was educated at the cathedral school in York under Egbert, archbishop of York and a pupil of Bede the Venerable. Ordained a deacon in 770, he then became the head of the York school. Under Ælberht, bishop and then archbishop of York, he visited Rome and the Frankish court and helped to create a library at the cathedral where he served as librarian and Master of the Schools. Following a meeting in 781 with Charlemagne in Pavia, the Frankish king persuaded him to join the court scholars at Aachen and to serve as his chief minister, with special responsibility for reviving education and learning in the Frankish dominions.
Alcuin withdrew from court life in 796 to become abbot of Saint Martin’s at Tours, where he died on May 19, 804. He was buried in the Church of Saint Martin.
Alcuin was man of vast learning, integrity, and personal charm. In his direction of Charlemagne’s palace school at Aachen, he was primarily responsible for the preservation of the classical heritage of European civilization. Under his direction and influence, schools were revived and established in cathedrals and monasteries, and manuscripts both pagan and Christian from classical antiquity were collated and copied. His own writings include biblical exegesis; a major theological work on the Trinity; moral and philosophical essays; manuals of grammar, rhetoric, orthography, and mathematics; and poems on a wide variety of subjects.
Under Charlemagne’s authority, Alcuin also led the Carolingian liturgical reform. He revised the Roman lectionary and adapted the Gregorian sacramentary for use in Gaul (Francia) by incorporating elements from the Gelasian sacramentary and composing a series of fesal and votive masses. This liturgical work preserved many of the Collects that have come down to the present day, including the Collect for Purity of Heart that has begun the Anglican eucharistic liturgy since the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.
prepared from The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty God, in a rude and barbarous age you raised up your deacon Alcuin to rekindle the light of learning: Illumine our minds, we pray, that amid the uncertainties and confusions of our own time we may show forth your eternal truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.