Saint Acca of Hexham, Bishop

October 20

Today is the feast day of Saint Acca of Hexam. Ora pro nobis.

During his youth, Acca joined the household of Bishop Bosa of York, where he fell in with the Romanist party and became a faithful friend of St. Wilfred, Abbot of Ripon. They were constant companions for thirteen, often turbulent, years and Acca accompanied the great man on many of his Continental visits.

Upon Wilfred’s death (AD 709), he nominated Acca to succeed him as Abbot of Hexham. He was able to take up the Bishopric as well. He completed the building work started by his friend and decorated the principal church at Hexham with altars, sacred vessels and holy relics. 

Acca was an accomplished singer and a noted scholar of the age. Bede praised the high quality and wide-ranging diversity of his theological library; and dedicated several of his biblical works to the Bishop. The two seem to have known each other well, for when Acca found St. Ambrose’s commentary on St. Luke too long, he encouraged the father of English History to write a reduced version. He later supplied Bede with information for the Ecclesiastical History. (1)

Bede left a glowing account of the work Acca did during the quarter of a century when he led the community at Hexham. He adorned the church with paintings, sculpture and rich hangings; he gathered sacred relics and built side-chapels to house them; he created a library of godly books; he brought from Kent a skilled teacher of Gregorian chant named Maban, to ensure that the music and liturgy of the church were as fine as any in Europe.

In his later years Acca ran into difficulties. It seems that he was deposed about 732, perhaps for political reasons linked with the overthrow of a Northumbrian king at about the same time. Perhaps he was exiled, though when he died a few years later his remains were buried at Hexham. By that time his friend and biographer, Bede had died, so we have no reliable information about Acca’s later years. We cannot be sure whether he died in 737, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says, or 740, as a later chronicler maintains. We do not know what he did or where he went in the years after his deposition. Perhaps he travelled to the monastery of Whithorn and helped establish there a bishopric; or perhaps he visited the Picts, taking with him the Hexham cult of devotion to St Andrew and so giving Scotland its patron saint.(3)

Image: St. Acca’s cross, Hexham Abbey, Hexham, England (4)

Research by REGINA Staff


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