FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY
“STEPHEN THE PRIEST” is how the author of a ‘Vita’ (Life) of St Wilfrid – written by a follower of Wilfrid, probably during the decade following Wilfrid's death in 709 – describes himself in one of the two surviving manuscripts.* The name is confirmed by William of Malmesbury, in his ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Bishops of England), who precedes his own record of Wilfrid with the comment:
“And so, cutting out long, rambling narratives, I shall go for the truth and summarise briefly what Stephen, the priest, recounted with a great army of words.”
‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ Prologue to Book III
Now, Bede (‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ Book IV Chapter 2) mentions one “Æddi, surnamed Stephen” (Eddi cognomento Stephanus) – a singing-master brought to Northumbria by Wilfrid, from Kent, in 669. Within the ‘Vita’ itself (Chapter 14) it is noted that Æddi (no surname given) was actually one of a pair of singers (“Ædde and Æona”) that Wilfrid brought with him. At any rate, putting two and two together, the singer, Æddi, and the author of the ‘Vita’ have traditionally been seen as one and the same. In all likelihood, however, they were two individuals who, by coincidence, shared the name Stephen. Nevertheless, Wilfrid's biographer continues to be referred to as Eddius Stephanus, though there is a modern tendency to call him Stephen of Ripon.
William of Malmesbury ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ translated by David Preest
One of the manuscripts (in the Cotton collection of the British Library, London) is written in an 11th century hand, the other (in the Fell collection of the Bodleian Library, Oxford) is in a hand of the late-11th or early-12th century. It is this latter, the Fell manuscript, that starts:
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here begins the humble preface of Stephen the priest to his account of the life of St Wilfrid, a bishop worthy before God.”