Jan 092021

Today is the saint’s day of Adrian (also spelled Hadrian) of Canterbury (c.637—710). He was a North African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and the abbot of Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s in Canterbury. He was a noted teacher and commentator of the Bible. According to Bede, he was a Berber from North Africa, and abbot of a monastery “not far from Naples” called Monasterium Niridanum (which has never been adequately identified). His identity as a Berber is what encourages me to write this post because the internationalism of this period in Medieval history strikes me as greatly at odds with the nationalism of these latter days.  Apparently, no one in Anglo-Saxon Kent thought twice about having a North African resident abbot, and the pope thought he was a suitable candidate for archbishop of Canterbury.  To be fair, Augustine of Hippo, certainly one of the most influential scholars of his day ( https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-augustine-of-hippo/ ), is also presumed to have been a Berber – or, at least, that his mother was. But he spent almost all of his ecclesiastical career in North Africa.  Adrian knew the world.

When first offered the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, by pope Vitalian, Adrian declined. Instead he recommended that it should be given to Andrew, a monk belonging to a neighboring monastery, but he also declined on the plea of advanced years. Then, when the offer was again made to Adrian, he suggested his friend Theodore of Tarsus, who happened to be in Rome at the time. He agreed to undertake the charge, but Vitalian stipulated that Adrian should accompany him to Britain. He gave as his reasons that Adrian, having twice before made a journey into Gaul, knew the roads and the means of transport in the region. As I said, Adrian knew the world.

The two set out from Rome on 27 May 668, and proceeding by sea to Marseilles, crossed the country to Arles, where they remained with John, the archbishop, until they got passports from Ebroin, who ruled that part of Gaul as Mayor of the Palace, for the minor king Clotaire III. Having then made their way together to the north of France, they parted company, and went separately to hole up for the winter, Theodore with Agilbert, bishop of Paris, Adrian first with Emmon, bishop of Sens, and afterwards with Faro, bishop of Meaux. Theodore was sent for in the following spring by king Ecgberht of Kent and was allowed to depart. He reached England at the end of May 669; but Adrian was detained by order of Ebroin, who is said to have suspected him of being an emissary of the Greek emperor sent to stir up troubles against the kingdom of the Franks.

At length, however, Ebroin relented, and Adrian was permitted to proceed to England, where, immediately on his arrival, he was made abbot of the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul (afterwards called Saint Augustine’s) at Canterbury, an appointment which was in conformity with instructions given by the pope to Theodore. Adrian was known to be well versed in the Bible, as well as in Greek and Latin, and an excellent administrator. Under his direction the abbey came to have substantial, far-reaching influence.

Bede describes Adrian (or Hadrian, as he calls him in the Ecclesiastical History), as not only a distinguished theologian, but eminently accomplished in secular learning. He and Theodore, we are told, toured Britain extensively, gathered multitudes of scholars around them wherever they appeared, and employed themselves daily with equal diligence and success in instructing those who flocked to them not only in Christianity (which was a novelty to many),  but in the several branches of science and literature available at the time. Bede particularly mentions the metrical art, astronomy, and arithmetic (which may be considered as representing what we might now call rhetoric and the belles lettres, physical science, and mathematics); and he adds, that as he wrote (in the early part of the 8th century), there still remained some of the pupils of Theodore and Adrian, who spoke Greek and Latin as readily as their native tongues. A record of the teaching of Theodore and Adrian is preserved in the Leiden Glossary.

King Alfred appears to allude to Theodore’s and Adrian’s scholarly outreach in the preface to his translation of Pope Gregory I’s Liber Pastoralis Curae, in the latter part of the ninth century, where he says that it often came into his mind what wise men there were in the country, both laymen and ecclesiastics, in a former age; how the clergy in those happy times were diligent both to teach and to study, and how foreigners then came to England to acquire learning and wisdom; whereas now, in his own day, if any Englishman desired to make himself a scholar, he was obliged to go abroad for instruction.

Adrian is said to have lived for 39 years after he arrived in England, continuing until his death to preside over the monastery at Canterbury. He died in 709 and was buried in the monastery. When he was canonized as a saint, his relics were re-deposited in the new monastery on 9th January 1091, which is now his feast day.

The iconic Berber dish is the tagine – one of the reasons for the post at all.  The name “tagine” refers both to the cooking vessel (which is easily recognized) and the various dishes made in it.  It dates back to around the time of Adrian – just slightly later, but not by much.  Modern Moroccan Arabic طجين ṭažin is derived from Berber ṭajin “shallow earthen pot” from Ancient Greek τάγηνον (tágēnon) “frying-pan, saucepan.”

There are numerous tagine dishes, and you can find numerous recipes online or on YouTube.  This one is an excellent introduction to the method: