The Great Myths #14: The Sparrow in Northumbria (Christian)

Around the year 627, when King Edwin of Northumbria and his advisors were discussing the possibility of converting to Christianity, one of them replied this way:

Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thegns and counselors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.

– Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, book 2, ch. 13
translated by D. H. Farmer, 129-130

Read the other Great Myths here

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10 replies »

  1. I have never forgotten this image; it is so characteristically Anglo-Saxon in its starkness. I’m not sure that I like how it presents Christianity, but there is certainly more to Christianity, even in this world, in the eyes of Anglo-Saxon Christians.

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  2. That’s pretty much it; it’s not what it says about Christianity that gets me, but what it says about everything. I first came across this in Schama’s History it Britain series & in a way only read Bede in the first place because of it. The Anglo-Saxon soul is one to admire.

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  3. Definitely a good one, it’s on my shelf & marked up. Also any attempt at learning Anglo-Saxon, hearing it read aloud, trying to write those alliterative lines. A wonderful drumming doomed sadness.

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  4. I’ll look forward to that Janet, I know there have been some new translations of Homer come out recently. Have you read Mendelsohn’s The Lost? It’s one of my favorite things

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