We have touched upon Bede when discussing Easter and Jastarnia. We now return to him to explore something else. Something so silly that it could not possibly be true.
Here’s Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” Book 5, Chapter 11 which tells the story of “How the Venerable Swidbert in Britain, and Wilbrod at Rome, were ordained Bishops for Frisland.” This was in A.D. 692-695:
Venerable Bede on Venerable Swidbert and Wilbrod
“At their first Coming into Frisland, as soon as Wilbrord found he had leave given him by the prince to preach, he made haste to Rome, where Pope Sergius then presided over the apostolical see, that he might undertake the desired work of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, with his licence and blessing; and hoping to receive of him some relics of the blessed apostles and martyrs of. Christ; to the end, that when he destroyed the idols, and erected churches in the nation to which he preached, he might have the relics of saints at hand to put into them, and having deposited them there, might accordingly dedicate those places to the honor of each of the saints whose relics they were. He was also desirous there to learn or to receive from thence many other things which so great a work required. Having obtained all that he wanted, he returned to preach.”
“At which time, the brothers who were in Frisland, attending the ministry of the word, chose out of their own number a man, modest of behavior, and meek of heart, called Swidbert, to be ordained bishop for them. He, being sent into Britain, was consecrated by the most reverend Bishop Wilfrid, who, happening to be then driven out of his country, lived in banishment among the Mercians; for Kent had no bishop at that time, Theodore being dead, and Berthwald, his successor, who was gone beyond the sea, to be ordained, not having returned.”
“The said Swidbert, being made bishop, returned from Britain not long after, and went among the Boructuarians; and by his preaching brought many of them into the way of truth; but the Boructuarians being not long after subdued by the Ancient Saxons, those who had received the word were dispersed abroad; and the bishop himself repaired to Pepin, who, at the request of his wife, Blithryda, gave him a place of residence in a certain island on the Rhine, which, in their tongue, is called Inlitore; where he built a monastery, which his heirs still possess, and for a time led a most continent life, and there ended his days.”
“When they who went over had spent some years teaching in Frisland, Pepin, with the consent of them all, sent the venerable Wilbrord to Rome, where Sergius was still pope, desiring that he might be consecrated archbishop over the nation of the Frisons; which was accordingly done, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 696. He was consecrated in the church of the Holy Martyr Cecilia, on her feastday; the pope gave him the name of Clement, and sent him back to his bishopric, fourteen days after his arrival at Rome.”
“Pepin gave him a place for his episcopal see, in his famous castle, which in the ancient language of those people is called Wiltaburg, that is, the town of the Wilts; but, in the French tongue, Utrecht. The most reverend prelate having built a church there, and preaching the word of faith far and near, drew many from their errors, and erected several churches and monasteries. For not long after he constituted other bishops in those parts, from among the brethren that either came with him or after him to preach there; some of which are now departed in our Lord; but Wilbrord himself, surnamed Clement, is still living, venerable for old age, having been thirty-six years a bishop, and sighing after the rewards of the heavenly life, after the many spiritual conflicts which he has waged.”
[the pictures are courtesy of MS 34 from the Herzog August Bibliothek in (appropriately named) Wolfenbuettel]
PRIMIS sane temporibus aduentus eorum in Fresiam, mox ut conperiit Uilbrord datam sibi a principe licentiam ibidem praedicandi, accelerauit uenire Romam, cuius sedi apostolicae tunc Sergius papa praeerat, ut cum eius licentia et benedictione desideratum euangelizandi gentibus opus iniret; simul et reliquias beatorum apostolorum ac martyrum Christi ab eo se sperans accipere, ut dum in gente, cui praedicaret, destructis idolis ecclesias institueret, haberet in promtu reliquias sanctorum, quas ibi introduceret; quibusque ibidem depositis, consequenter in eorum honorem, quorum essent illae, singula quaeque loca dedicaret. Sed et alia perplura, quae tanti operis negotium quaerebat, uel ibi discere uel inde accipere cupiebat. In quibus omnibus cum sui uoti compos esset effectus, ad praedicandum rediit.
Quo tempore fratres, qui erant in Fresia uerbi ministerio mancipati, elegerunt ex suo numero uirum modestum moribus, et mansuetum corde, Suidberctum, qui eis ordinaretur antistes, quem Brittaniam destinatum ad petitionem eorum ordinauit reuerentissimus Uilfrid episcopus, qui tum forte patria pulsus in Merciorum regionibus exulabat. Non enim eo tempore habebat episcopum Cantia, defuncto quidem Theodoro, sed necdum Berctualdo successore eius, qui trans mare ordinandus ierat, ad sedem episcopatus sui reuerso.
Qui uidelicet Suidberct accepto episcopatu, de Brittania regressus, non multo post ad gentem Boructuarorum secessit, ac multos eorum praedicando ad uiam ueritatis perduxit. Sed expugnatis non longo post tempore Boructuaris a gente Antiquorum Saxonum, dispersi sunt quolibet hi, qui uerbum receperant; ipse antistes cum quibusdam Pippinum petiit, qui interpellante Bliththrydae coniuge sua, dedit ei locum mansionis in insula quadam Hreni, quae lingua eorum uocatur In litore; in qua ipse, constructo monasterio, quod hactenus heredes possident eius, aliquandiu continentissimam gessit uitam, ibique diem clausit ultimum.
Postquam uero per annos aliquot in Fresia, qui aduenerant, docuerunt, misit Pippin fauente omnium consensu uirum uenerabilem Uilbrordum Romam, cuius adhuc pontificatum Sergius habebat, postulans. ut eidem Fresonum genti archiepiscopus ordinaretur. Quod ita, ut petierat, inpletum est, anno ab incarnatione Domini DCXCVI. Ordinatus est autem in ecclesia sanctae martyris Ceciliae, die natalis eius, inposito sibi a papa memorato nomine Clementis; ac mox remissus ad sedem episcopatus sui, id est post dies XIIII, ex quo in urbem uenerat.
Donauit autem ei Pippin locum cathedrae episcopalis in castello suo inlustri, quod antiquo gentium illarum uerbo Uiltaburg, id est Oppidum Uiltorum, lingua autem Gallica Traiectum uocatur; in quo aedificata ecclesia, reuerentissimus pontifex longe lateque uerbum fidei praedicans, multosque ab errore reuocans, plures per illas regiones ecclesias, sed et monasteria nonnulla construxit. Nam non multo post alios quoque illis in regionibus ipse constituit antistites ex eorum numero fratrum, qui uel secum, uel post se illo ad praedicandum uenerant; ex quibus aliquanti iam dormierunt in Domino. Ipse autem Uilbrord, cognomento Clemens, adhuc superest, longa iam uenerabilis aetate, utpote tricesimum et sextum in episcopatu habens annum, et post multiplices militiae caelestis agones ad praemia remunerationis supernae tota mente suspirans.
Old English Version
Incidentally, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People was such a hit that it was quickly translated into English (or rather Old English) and there are plenty of manuscripts here too – in fact, here is one – Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum (MS Kk.3.18) from the Cambridge University Library. We include only the relevant manuscript text:
followed by a picture of the print of the Old English chapter where that text fits:
Initial Thoughts on the Veleti
There is, of course, more to this. The Wilzen were, if these are the same, the ancient Veleti the Ur-Slavic tribe. What we wrote before about them before is that they were:
- listed as Veltae by Ptolemy in the second century A.D. on the shores of the Baltic:
Back from the Ocean, near the Venedicus bay, the Veltae dwell, above whom are the Ossi;
- named as the “most prominent” of Slavs (?) by Einhard who says when speaking of Charlemagne’s conquests:
The Slavs, Estonians and other peoples live along the southern shore. The Welatabi were the most prominent of these peoples and it was against them that the king now took up war.
- listed as progenitors of the Slavs by Ibrahim ibn Ya’qub al-Israili:
They are of many different kinds [of Slavs]. They were once united under a king named Makha, who was from a group of them called Walitaba.
- ditto the Arab geographer Masudi:
Among the different peoples who make up this pagan race, there is one that in ancient times held sovereign power. Their king was called Majik and they themselves were known as Walitaba [Veleti]. In the past, all the Saqaliba recognized their superiority, because it was from among them that they chose the paramount ruler, and all the other chieftains considered themselves his vassals.
- always stayed pagan – see our series on the Polabian Gods of which these were one part.
- had an oddly similar name to Veleda the priestess on the River Lippen/Lipa of whom Cassius Dio also speaks as follows:
Masyus, king of the Semnones, and Ganna, a virgin (she was priestess in Celtica after Veleda), came to Domitian and having been honored by him returned.
- named in German Sagas, such as Theodoric’s Saga where there is a story of Ossantrix (on the Ossi see above quote from Ptolemy – see also Germania where they are described as Pannonians) who was King of the Wilzen – the same Ossantrix (perhaps by virtue of the “ash” name is identified by Jan Dlugosz as King Popiel.
Intermediate Thoughts on the Veleti
In fact, the Wilti (Wildi?) whenever they appear confuse people. Their name sounds much like the Wild Ones or Wildlings raising the question of whether these WIlti were Slavs.
In fact, Ibrahim Bin Yaqub also says: “This group was of high status among them, but then their languages diverged, unity was broken and the people divided into factions, each of them ruled by their own king.”
On the other hand Einhard is unequivocal about their ethnicity:
After the insurrection [of duke Tasillo of the Bavarians who confronted Charlemagne at the River Lech in 787], [the king] declared war against the Slavs, whom we normally refer to as the Wilzi, but who are properly called Welatabi in their own language.
And the same is confirmed by Carolingian Annals which state under the year 789 that:
From Aachen a campaign was launched with the help of God into the land of the Slavs who were called Wilzi.
In the revised (R version!) of the Annals we also read that the chieftain of the Wilzi was called Dragawit.
(In some ways this is a unfortunate as the thankless task of trying to find “Slavs” among the Arabs where it is never quite certain whether the discussion is about a former “slave” or a Slav by ethnicity).
Final (For Now) Thoughts on the Veleti
Be that as it may, the Batavian Wilzi do get rolled in with the Slavs by later Dutch Chronicles. They were so curious that they were discussed by Safarik and debated by German historians of the Netherlands such as Kampe. Their past was intertwined in some of the ancient tellings with the Romans, the Saxons and with Britain (we do know that there were “Wends” in Britain both from the ancient times but also from the later Viking attacks and, after all, even the Venerable Bede wrote in Jarrow – see the Slavic -ow ending – :-)). It is also true that these stories mention the Suevi…
All that is to come. In the meantime we leave you with this:
- Just south of the Jeseniky Mountains (Asciburgen? Ash Mountains?) in the Czech Republic is the town of Zvole;
- there are at least two other such names in the Czech Republik;
- as well as one in Slovakia where there is a town of Zvolen;
- and there is one in Poland;
- but there is also a Zwolle in the Netherlands…
But then again,
next to Zwolle,
there is the town of Assendorp.
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