Caedmon hated to sing. The smoky light from the lanterns filled the inn, but Caedmon could see through the haze the minstrel’s harp being passed his way. The old cowherd slipped into the night and retired to the stables to sleep.
The year was 650 A.D. near Whitby, England, on the coast of the North Sea. According to Bede, who wrote an Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation in the 8th century, after having a dream that night, Caedmon woke up singing songs about the creation of the world.
The old man went to his master, the bailiff, and told him about his dream and sang this song:
Now we must praise
The Maker of the heavenly realm,
The Creator’s power and wisdom,
The deeds of the Father of Glory;
How He, being God eternal,
Was the Author of all wonders,
Who first to the sons of men
Made heaven for the roof of their abode,
And then created the earth,
Almighty Guardian of mankind…
Admittedly, it was only a paraphrase of our Bible and a poor one at that, but it was the first attempt to make the stories of the creation, the exodus, Christ’s incarnation, passion, resurrection and ascension into heaven available to the English people in their own language. And what they could sing they could easily tell to others.
Caedmon left his master and went to live at a monastery. There the monks told him stories from their Latin Bible, then, each night, “keeping in mind all he had heard, and as it were chewing the cud,” according to Bede, he would retire to awake fresh each day with verses so melodious that “his instructors became his eager listeners.”
A few short years later Caedmon died in his sleep – after singing to comfort the sick near the place where he had hated to sing.
reprinted from John’s article in 20th Century Christian, May 1987