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Sometimes the oldest technology is the best. I refer to alphabetic writing, that strange magic by which I commune with a Northumbrian monk who lived in the eighth century and never traveled farther than York. Also a member of the time-bending teleconference is Victorian doctor and scholar of things ancient and Hibernian, Sir Norman Moore (1847-1922).

Long ago I bought this copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History (Birckmann 1601) because I was fascinated by the binding and marginalia. The chunky little book is about as tall as a CD case, and  although it has been rebound, the original boards with their holes for clasps were preserved.

Bedeclasps Bedecover

Yes, it was love at first sight (even though the clasps are gone). But there was more! Bede’s work chronicled the clash between the “Celtic Christianity” disseminated from Ireland and the “Roman Christianity” practiced by the Anglo-Saxons. The Irish monks had a different method for calculating Easter, but of course the disagreements went deeper than that. Bede admired the great Irish saints, founders of monasteries and lights of learning: Aidan, Adomnan, Cuthbert, and Columbanus. Yet he never mentions Saint Patrick. A deliberate snub?

My copy of Bede has marginalia in two hands from two former owners. First, someone uses a tiny, precise hand to comment in Latin on what Bede has to say about King Alfrith of Deira, who originally hewed to the Irish position on Easter (his wife being an Irish princess), and the strange absence of St. Patrick from the Ecclesiastical History. In between these notes someone has used a thicker penstroke to write the initials N.M. and to note that the great Irish saint Colum Cille (Columbanus) is mentioned by Bede on page 94!


N.M. is Norman Moore. He wrote his name and the date, 1883, at the end of the preface. There is also a longer inscription in a script I can’t read, which I suspect is Irish; it is dated 1891 and perhaps alludes to his presentation of the book to someone else. (If anyone can read it, please lend me your expertise!)BedeNormanMoore


Sir Norman was one of those amazing individuals with the ability to master more than one field of knowledge. He was born in Manchester, but he seems to have fallen in love with the Irish language, history and culture. Not only was he elected to the Royal College of Physicians, he also published translations from the Book of Leinster (Old Irish sagas, genealogies and history) and an English edition of an Irish grammar previously only available in German. A man after my own heart! I think this is why his book came to me, for I too became interested, almost by accident, in all things ancient and Hibernian.

To top it all off, the endpaper bears a diagram of the ruined church at Lindisfarne, in the more delicate hand of the two. This little book was not particularly expensive, but to me, it’s priceless!