Why Alcuin

Charlemagne et Alcuin

St. Alcuin being received by Charlemagne


Alcuin was an important English Christian of the late 8th and early 9th centuries, who spent his last years in Tours—as Abbot of St Martin’s. Under his influence, the city added to its fame by becoming an important intellectual and artistic centre.

Probably born in the year 735 in or near York, he entered the cathedral school there as a child, continued as a Scholar and eventually became Master. In 781, he went to Aachen, having been recruited by the emperor Charlemagne as an adviser on religious and educational matters and as Master of the Palace School, where he established an important library. He was an important inspiration behind the Carolingian renaissance: he wrote poetry, revised the lectionary, compiled a sacramentary and was involved in other significant liturgical work, particularly the standardisation of the Eucharistic rite.

In 796, when Alcuin decided to retire, Charlemagne appointed him Abbot of Tours, although not a monk and only in deacon’s orders. He remained there until he died.

Even though the community numbered over 200 monks, it was not very active, so Alcuin undertook to renew its prestige. He reformed the abbey school, creating two levels of study: one was elementary, the other consisted of the seven liberal arts (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy). Students came to this from all over Europe. In the monastery, he revived the scriptorium where copyists devised a cursive script—the first joined-up writing—which we would still recognise today. He also produced a revised version of the Vulgate Bible which became the authorised text throughout the kingdom. He remained in close touch with Charlemagne who continued to seek his advice and visited him in Tours just before his coronation in December 800. Alcuin died on Whit Sunday, 19th May, 804. As that day was already dedicated to St. Dunstan, he is celebrated on the following day, 20th May.

After his death, Tours continued to be a thriving cultural centre and in 813 a council met there which ruled that clergy should comment on the Bible in French rather than Latin.

We are proud to follow in his tradition.