Saint Aldhelm

Very little is known about the basic details of Aldhelm's life, but there is no doubt that he was one of the most influential men to have come from the Malmesbury area.

He was born in around 640AD, almost certainly into a noble family. Wessex was not converted to Christianity until around 635, so it is quite likely that his parents were recent converts.

He studied at the community that had not long been founded at Malmesbury by Maildub, and was clearly a gifted scholar. After his studies he travelled to Canterbury and later to Rome. On his return, on instructions from Rome, he established the monastery at Malmesbury. He was abbot for 33 years during which time the size and influence of the place increased significantly. In 705 he was appointed Bishop of the newly created diocese of Sherborne, a position he occupied until his death four years later (see below).

There is no doubt that he was a charismatic figure. It is related how he would stand at the river bank. Crowds would gather around him as he told stories. In this way he would introduce to them the Christian message, and would persuade many to be baptised. That is almost certainly why the bridge that stands at the point where this all took place is called St. John's Bridge, after John The Baptist. The field nearby is also known as St. Aldhelm's Mead, but that is because the fair in his honour used to take place there.

Aldhelm is still considered one of the pre-eminent scholars of his time. Many of his writings survive, including a fascinating collection of riddles on subjects as diverse as a cloud, the wind, and even the elephant.

Stories arose in later years of his miraculous powers. One legend relates that while he was in Rome, a baby was born in the house of the Pope's chamberlain. There were rumours that Pope Sergius was the father, so Aldhelm enquired of the nine-day old infant, who stated in a clear voice that the holy father was pure and undefiled and ever had been.

In 705, Aldhelm left Malmesbury to be consecrated as the first Bishop of Sherborne. To mark the 1300th anniversary of this, various celebrations took place, including a service in Malmesbury Abbey on Saturday May 28th 2005, and a pilgrimage from Sherborne to St Aldhelm's Chapel on the Headland that bears his name in Dorset.

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