Caedmon, Father of English Sacred Song

Caedmon (pronounced Kade-mon) was a humble herdsman at the Abbey during the time that St Hild was the Abbess.  His miraculous story was recorded by the Venerable Bede, the 8th century historian.

After the meal on feast nights everyone at the Abbey would be invited to recite a poem, or to sing a song, or to play a musical instrument, but Caedmon was too shy. Instead, he would retreat to the stables where he felt more at ease looking after the horses. One feast night he slipped away to the stables as usual, fell asleep in the hay and dreamed that a man was standing beside him. The stranger asked him to recite a poem but Caedmon explained that he didn’t know any poetry and that was why he had left the feast. The man asked him again and Caedmon asked ‘What shall I  write a poem about?’ and the stranger told him to write about the Creation of all things. To his own surprise, Caedmon was able to respond with a poem of his very own, in praise of God the Creator and all of His works, even though he had never written a poem in his life before.

Then the man asked him to play a harp and, to Caedmon’s surprise he was able to respond with a beautiful tune of his very own, even though he had never played any musical instrument or composed a tune in his life before. Then the man asked him to play the tune again and sing the poem he had just written and, to Caedmon’s surprise he sang beautifully and played the harp perfectly, even though he had never sung or played before in his life.

When Caedmon woke up he remembered his dream and found to his utter surprise that it was all still true. Now he could write wonderful poetry and sing beautiful songs while accompanying himself on the harp. He rushed off to tell Hilda the Abbess, who listened to his faultless performance of the Song of Creation and declared it a miracle. This was the very first religious song in English, which means that Caedmon was the ‘Father of English Sacred Song’.