Stephen the Priest

In the name of our Lord Christ Jesus. Here begins the humble apology of Stephen the priest, who writes concerning the life of St Wilfrid, the bishop worthy before God.

So says the opening statement of the Preface to a Vita (Life) of St Wilfrid – written by a follower of the bishop shortly after his death in 709 or 710 – in one of the work’s two surviving manuscripts.[*] The author’s 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 summarize briefly what Stephen the priest recounted with a great army of words.
Prologue to Book III

Now, Bede (Historia Ecclesiastica IV, 2) mentions one “Æddi, surnamed Stephen” (Aeddi cognomento Stephanus), a singing-master brought to Northumbria, from Kent, by Wilfrid, and within the Vita itself (Ch.14) it is noted that Æddi (no surname given) was one of a pair of singers (Aedde et Aeona) that Wilfrid brought to Ripon – the date would be between 666 and 669. Putting two and two together, the singer, “Æddi, surnamed Stephen”, and the author of the Vita, “Stephen the priest”, have traditionally been seen as one and the same man, known by the Latinized name Eddius Stephanus. However, Æddi would have been in his sixties when Wilfrid died, so it is perhaps more likely that he and the author were two individuals who, by coincidence, shared the name Stephen. At any rate, there is a modern tendency to call the author Stephen of Ripon.

Stephen Vita Sancti Wilfrithi by Bertram Colgrave
William of Malmesbury Gesta Pontificum Anglorum by David Preest

One of the manuscripts (London, British Library MS Cotton Vespasian D vi) is an 11th century copy, the other (Salisbury Cathedral Library MS 223) is an early-12th century copy. The Salisbury manuscript has the Preface naming “Stephen the priest” as the author.
The year of Wilfrid’s death is uncertain. Bede places it in 709, but there are other indications that it was actually in 710 (see Bishop Wilfrid). Ælfflæd, abbess of Whitby, was evidently still alive when Stephen wrote. She died in about 714.
Aeona in the Cotton manuscript;
Eonan in the Salisbury manuscript.