July 8, 901: Death of Grimbald of St-Bertin

King Alfred the Great (871-99) is well known as the only English king who survived the first great wave of Viking attacks, and consequently became the "father" of the English nation. Less well known is the fact that once Alfred had fended off the Vikings, he invited scholars from elsewhere in Britain and the continent to rebuild learning in his shattered kingdom. They formed a learned circle at court, and with the king's encouragement and later participation, they translated important books from Latin (almost forgotten in Alfred's Wessex) into English, to provide the spiritual sustenance and invigoration which to Alfred was just as important as a military victory. They also composed the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a year-by-year account of Anglo-Saxon history up to the 890s: manuscripts of it would be updated by later writers, some of them up to 1066, and in one case until 1154. Grimbald, once a monk of St-Bertin in Francia, was one of Alfred's scholars. He came to England in 887, and a small monastery in Winchester was set aside for his use. Later legend tells that when the archbishop of Canterbury died in 888, the job was offered to Grimbald and he refused it.

In 901, a new monastery was founded at Winchester, which came to be known as the "New Minster". It became the royal burial church for the first part of the tenth century, and seems to have been partly a reflection of the wider ambitions of Alfred's kingdom (in Alfred's reign, the king's title changed from "King of the West Saxons" to "King of the Anglo-Saxons"). Grimbald was very likely intended to be the first abbot of the new foundation, but his death prevented this. Instead, the house claimed him as a saint: an eleventh-century charter notes St Judoc and St Grimbald as the two miracle-working pillars of the New Minster.