LEADING astronomers last night hailed a new attraction which highlights the scientific brilliance of one of the North East’s greatest stars.
The Venerable Bede, based at the Wearmouth-Jarrow twin monastery site, is famed for his theological works and for being the father of English history.
But Bede, one of the leading scholars in 8th Century Europe, was also an outstanding scientist.
Last night a new permanent gallery at Bede’s World in Jarrow, called Bede the Scientist, was opened. Sir Arnold Wolfendale, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Durham University and former Astronomer Royal, had been due to attend – only to be foiled by the weather.
A recorded message was also played from Sky at Night astronomer Sir Patrick Moore, who says: “I would like to congratulate Bede’s World for establishing the permanent exhibition which celebrates the remarkable contribution which Bede made to scientific thought in the 8th Century. We know that Bede was a great historian but few people know that he was one of the very early astronomers of his time.”
The gallery has been funded by the Catherine Cookson Trust and The William Leech Charitable Trust and will strengthen the Wearmouth-Jarrow bid to be the North East’s third world heritage site.
Bede’s World director Kate Sussams said: “Visitors will be able to really appreciate Bede’s amazing scientific achievements. Bede was a formidable thinker and writer and his influence is still widely felt today. This exhibition underlines how important the monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow was and that local people should be so proud of its place in their community.
“Bede did not have the internet or calculators but his amazing work in a small monastery in the North East had an impact on the whole world.”
Carrie Philip, Bede’s World education team leader, said: “Many people don’t really know about Bede’s scientific work, which came out of his desire to explain the world. This included writing about how the world was round and the fact that tides are dragged round the Earth by the moon. Bede was the first scientist to put this in writing, centuries before the discovery of gravity.”
The gallery features a 24-hour camera recording of the rising and falling tide on the River Don next to Bede’s World, which can be speeded up by visitors. Bede’s World is offering free admission to the museum and farm this weekend.
Children add their support to heritage bid
PUPILS with a special stake in the bid for the North East’s third world heritage site have added their support to the project.
Benedict Biscop Primary School in the Moorside area of Sunderland is named after the monk who founded the twin Anglo-Saxon monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow.
The monastery, built by Benedict Biscop in the 7th Century, centres on St Peter’s Church in Sunderland and St Paul’s Church in Jarrow.
It is the UK’s nomination for world heritage site status in 2010.
Paula Thompson, headteacher at the school said: "The children are learning about Benedict Biscop and how he influenced so much of our lives here in Sunderland, Jarrow and the North East."
Children, teachers and parents at the school signed a Book of Life which is a record signatures of support for the world heritage site nomination and will be presented to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.
One of the greatest pioneers
BEDE’S scientific works include the book On Time, a larger volume On the Reckoning of Time and a book On the Nature of Things.
On the Reckoning of Time is the earliest comprehensive treatment of measuring time and constructing a Christian calendar. This was of tremendous concern to the emerging medieval world because of the confusion over the date of Easter.
Bede provided an explanation of the way in which the cycles of solar years, lunar months and weekdays could be used to predict in advance the date of Easter on a 532-year repeating cycle.
His work still forms the basis of the way Easter is calculated today.
He also described the division of the Earth into temperate zones, and the calculation of an early form of latitude.
His explanations also included how to calculate on the fingers, from 0 to 9,999 on the fingers, then to 1,000,000 using shoulders, arms and legs.
Sir Patrick Moore says: "I think he was the first great British astronomer – he set down his knowledge and it’s very important that people, especially children, should want to know more about his work.
"I was impressed that Bede was a scientist – unusual for a priest – and I'm pleased that the exhibition highlights his research.
"It is right to honour him as a pioneering scientist."