Eddius

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{theory, work, human}
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Stephen of Ripon is the author of the eighth-century Vita Sancti Wilfrithi ("Life of Saint Wilfrid"). Another name which has been traditionally attributed to him is Eddius Stephanus or Æddi Stephanus, but since his identification with the bearer of this name is no longer accepted by historians today, modern usage tends to favour Stephen.

Contents

Life

Very little is known about his life. The author of the Vita Sancti Wilfrithi identifies himself as “Stephen, a priest”. Bede mentions that Wilfrid brought a singing master from Kent, Ædde Stephanus, to Ripon in 669 to teach chant, and he has traditionally been thought to be the same person as the “Stephen” mentioned. However, there is no more solid evidence that the two names describe the same person.[1] If the two were in fact the same, Stephen would have been at least twenty years old when he came north, placing him in his sixties or older at Wilfrid’s death in 709.

Regardless of whether or not Stephen the priest was Wilfrid’s singing master from Kent, he appears to have been a follower of Wilfrid and was able to consult individuals who had known Wilfrid closely as sources for the Life of Wilfrid. He wrote for the monks in Ripon, many of whom had known Wilfrid. [2]

Writings

Life of Saint Wilfrid

Stephen’s Life of Saint Wilfrid is our only source on Saint Wilfrid aside from Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica. It was written shortly after Wilfrid's death in 709. Stephen was asked to write the Life by Acca, one of Wilfrid’s followers who later became a bishop and succeeded Wilfrid in the See of Hexham. Although Stephen knew Wilfrid personally and had access to others who had known him, he recounts several extraordinary events and makes use of source materials in places. He even copies two lines directly from the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert, among other borrowings.[4] However, unlike many early medieval hagiographies which consisted of strings of miracles attributed to saints, Stephen’s Life takes the form of a chronological narrative and includes specific names and events.

It is unknown exactly what Stephen hoped to accomplish in writing the Life of Saint Wilfrid. Scholars have come up with several theories. It has been argued that Stephen’s use of lines from the Anonymous Life of Cuthbert was a way of outdoing the cult based around Cuthbert and replacing him with Wilfrid. However, Stephen’s borrowings only make up a tiny percentage of the whole and are entirely located in the early part of the work, making this theory appear unlikely.[5]

The work is highly biased in favour of Wilfrid and includes explicit comparisons of Wilfrid to Old Testament figures and the Apostle Paul.[6] Early on, Stephen explains that the community urged him to write the Life. Stephen’s goal in writing could simply have been to describe the community’s feelings on the holiness and goodness of the life of Wilfrid, who they had known personally.[7]

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