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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the cleric, educator and poet from York who put learning for its own sake at the heart of the Carolingian Renaissance

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alcuin of York, c735-804AD, who promoted education as a goal in itself, and had a fundamental role in the renaissance at Charlemagne's court. He wrote poetry and many letters, hundreds of which survive and provide insight into his life and times. He was born in or near York and spent most of his life in Northumbria before accepting an invitation to Charlemagne's court in Aachen. To this he brought Anglo-Saxon humanism, encouraging a broad liberal education for itself and the better to understand Christian doctrine. He left to be abbot at Marmoutier, Tours, where the monks were developing the Carolingian script that influenced the Roman typeface.

The image above is Alcuin’s portrait, found in a copy of the Bible made at his monastery in Tours during the rule of his successor Abbot Adalhard (834–843). Painted in red on gold leaf, it shows Alcuin with a tonsure and a halo, signifying respect for his memory at the monastery where he had died in 804. His name and rank are spelled out alongside: Alcvinvs abba, ‘Alcuin the abbot’. It is held at the Staatsbibliothek Bamberg -Kaiser-Heinrich-Bibliothek - Msc.Bibl.1,fol.5v (photo by Gerald Raab).


Joanna Story
Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester

Andy Orchard
Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Pembroke College


Mary Garrison
Lecturer in History at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Available now

56 minutes

Last on

Thu 30 Jan 2020 21:30


Mary Garrison at the University of York

Joanna Story at the University of Leicester

Andy Orchard at the University of Oxford

The Essay: Anglo-Saxon Portraits: Alcuin, the Scholar - BBC Radio 3

‘The Library of Alcuin’s York’ by Mary Garrison

'The Social World of Alcuin: Nicknames at York and at the Carolingian Court’ by Mary Garrison

Alkuin-Bibel - Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Staatsbibliothek Bamberg

Alcuin – Wikipedia



Stephen Allott, Alcuin of York c. A.D. 732- 804: His Life and Letters (William Sessions Limited, 1974)

Claire Breay and Joanna Story, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War (British Library Press, 2018)

Donald Bullough, Alcuin: Achievement and Reputation (Brill, 2003)

Roger Collins, Charlemagne (MacMillan Press, 1998)

Douglas Dales, A Mind Intent on God: The Prayers and Spiritual Writings of Alcuin: An Instruction (Canterbury Press, 2011)

Richard Gameson (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, volume 1, c.400-1100 (Cambridge University Press, 2012), especially ‘The Library of Alcuin’s York’ by Mary Garrison

Peter Godman (ed.), Alcuin: The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York (Clarendon Press, 1983)

L. Houwen and A. MacDonald (eds.), Alcuin and his Influence on European Culture: Proceedings of the Germania Latina III Conference, Groningen, September 1995 (University of Groningen 1998)

C. Stephen Jaeger, Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999)

Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Janet L. Nelson, King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne (Allan Lane, 2019)

David W. Rollason, Early Medieval Europe, 300–1050. The Birth of Western Society (Pearson, 2012)

Joanna Story (ed.), Charlemagne: Empire and Society (Manchester University Press, 2005)


  • Thu 30 Jan 2020 09:00
  • Thu 30 Jan 2020 21:30

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