The earliest Life of Willibrord, written, as Theofrid, Abbot of Echternach (1083-1100), tells us, by an unlearned Scot (i.e. an Irishman) in a rough and unpolished style, has disappeared, though its contents may be reconstructed from the biography composed by Alcuin, who probably used it as his source.

Alcuin, the author of the present Life, was born in York in 735 and became the master of the school there in 778. Four years later he was appointed head of Charlemagne's school at Aixla-Chapelle [Aachen] and became a leading member of that select circle who supported the emperor in his efforts to reeducate Europe. In 796 he was removed to Tours and died in 804.

His Life of Willibrord was written at the request of Beornrade, Abbot of Echternach and Archbishop of Sens. As a relative of Willibrord and legal possessor of the Monastery of St. Andrew, founded by Willibrord s father, Wilgils, on a headland overlooking the mouth of the Humber, Alcuin must have undertaken the work as a kind of tribute to his family connections. It is not a particularly impressive piece of writing, sometimes ungrammatical and at all times turgid and rhetorical, but as it was meant to be read at public worship its lack of historical detail and its insistence on Willibrord's miracles may perhaps be excused. He wrote another version in hexameter verse for students at the monastic schools, without, however, adding anything to the material offered here.

Theofrid, mentioned above, also wrote a prose and metrical Life of Willibrord, basing it on Alcuin's material with additions from Bede, the lives of other saints and the Echternach charters. A third Life, written by a presbyter called Echebert, repeats Alcuin's Life, with certain modifications at the beginning and the end.


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