Bede the Scientist

Bede’s work concerning the Roman Empire

Arbeia Roman Fort at the Tyne estuary, 2 miles east of St.Paul’s monastery

Bede was writing about the Roman occupation of his native Northumbria only three centuries after their legions had left the landscape he knew and which was still dominated by the remains of their fortifications.He also mapped out their coverage of the area, although this led to some critiscism at the time regarding its accuracy. The Roman roads were, however, straight and true and were to provide the basis of a sound infrastructure to a hostile and remote north-east England.

Hadrian’s Wall

It was the great wall of Hadrian that was to Bede the most evident feature left by the Roman Empire, close to his monastic residence on the eastern extremity of what had been the Roman occupation of the Northumbrian area of England. The stones from the Roman Wall, dressed and cut to size, proved to be ideal building blocks suitable for the construction of the monastery at Monkwearmouth and the new foundation at Jarrow. Further supplies of stone blocks were available two miles east on the estuary of the river Tyne at the Roman fort of Arbeia at South Shields.
As a youngster in the monastery, Bede was aware of the ready-made availability of this building medium and the Roman stones continued to be of use for years to come in the on-going extention work to the monastic site. Stones from the two fortifications shown above were close at hand for use by the monks in Anglo-Saxon and Norman times.

Fishermen on the river Don at Jarrow – PRINT FROM A 1780 ENGRAVING

The monks in their small fishing boat on the river Don at Jarrow were celebrating another successful day’s fishing. They knew that they had brother Bede to thank for this as he had worked out for them a timetable of tides so that they could arrange their fishing schedules to best advantage. They were aware from past experience that the best catches on this stretch of the river were on the flow tide for the two hours preceeding high tide, and for the two hours afterwards on the ebb tide.
Grateful too, were the monks and community of Holy Island ( Lindisfarne) fifty miles north up the coast of Northumberland, near to the Scottish border. A tide table was of great importance to them as a means of getting on or off their island on foot using the causeway which is only accessable at low tide.
Through his interest in science and astronomy, Bede was able to deduce that the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth was responsible for causing our tides and he was able to work out a formula for predicting the tidal times and draft timetables for his colleagues and the community in general.

Bede’s Scientific Achievement. 

Bede’s scientific interest and achievement is evident in much of his writing. Included in his work to verify this fact is a book ” On Times”, a larger volume “On the Reckoning of Time”, and a book on the ” Nature of the World”. The book “On the Reckoning of Time” is the earliest comprehensive treatment of measuring time and constructing a Christian calendar. This was of great importance in calculating the exact date of Easter, which varies year to year in our current calendar. Bede was able to calculate this to coincide with the cycles of solar years, lunar months and weekdays. His work formed the basis of the way in which Easter is calculated today.                          
He included an explaination of how the Earth was a sphere and also wrote about the way it was divided into temperate zones, calculating an early form of latitude. Bede was able to explain how the spherical Earth influenced the changing lengths of daylight and how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon affected the changing appearance of the New Moon at evening twilight.
The focus of his book was calculation, so Bede gave instructions for computing the date of Easter and the related time of the Easter Full Moon. This was also used for calculating the motion of the Sun and Moon through the Zodiac, and for many other calculations related to the calendar.
The world renowned astronomer, Sir Patrick Moore acknowledges Bede as the first great British astronomer and has sent his congratulations to the Bede’s World museum for establishing a permanent exhibition which celebrates Bede’s remarkable contribution to the world of science in the 8th.century. Visit Bede’s World at

Stained glass window at Bede’s World by Paul Georgiou.


Bede’s discoveries and thinking cannot always be phrased for easy reading as he often relates to complex issues. Bede would contemplate astronomical matters and evaluate the outcome that they would produce and the patterns and frequencies that would occur as a result.
Not only did he recognise astronomical features but he could also evaluate mathematical formulae for calculating their values and the prediction of their occurences.
Bede was the equivelant of Einstein in the 7th. and 8th. centuries.
Bede’s World museum is adjacent to St. Paul’s Church and Monastic Site at Jarrow. The new permanent gallery located at the museum is called ” BEDE THE SCIENTIST “
Details can be found on the museum’s website at