Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Acca

ACCA (d. 740), fifth bishop of Hexham (709–732), was a native of Northumbria, and was brought up from childhood in the household of Bosa, who was made bishop of York in 678 in the place of Wilfrid. Wilfrid was deposed from his see because he refused to assent to the subdivision of the Northumbrian diocese according to the plan of Archbishop Theodore. It would seem that Acca sympathised with Wilfrid. He transferred himself to Wilfrid's service, accompanied him in his wanderings, and stood high in his confidence and affection till his death. He was with Wilfrid in his missionary journey among the South Saxons (Bede, H. E. iv. 14–15). He went with Wilfrid to Friesland, and visited St. Willibrord (H. E. iii. 13). He further accompanied Wilfrid to Rome. On their return in 705 Wilfrid was seized with sickness at Meaux, and lay as though dead, but was restored by a vision of St. Michael. On recovering consciousness his first question was, ‘Ubi est Acca presbyter?’ and to Acca alone he narrated his vision (Eddius, ch. 54). When Wilfrid, on his return to Northumbria in 705, settled in his favourite monastery of Hexham, and became bishop of the see, which embraced the southern part of Bernicia, Acca shared in his labours. He was made by Wilfrid abbot of Hexham (Eddius, ch. 62), and on Wilfrid's death in 709 Acca was chosen to succeed his master.

As bishop of Hexham, Acca faithfully carried out the work which Wilfrid had begun. Wilfrid brought to the adornment of Hexham all the cultivation which he had gathered from his journeys on the Continent. He built the monastery church, which was dedicated to St. Andrew, and three others, St. Mary's, St. Peter's, and St. Michael's (Ric. of Hexham, p. 18). These buildings Acca completed and adorned. He gathered relics of saints and martyrs, and erected side-chapels with altars in their honour. Eddius (ch. 22) says that they were splendid with gold and silver and precious stones, and were draped with purple and silks. Acca procured holy vessels, lamps, and all things needed for the ornament of his churches. He was himself a skilful musician, and wished to have the services performed according to the model which he had seen in Italy. He summoned to Hexham a famous singer, Maban by name, who had learned his art in Kent from the descendants of those whom St. Gregory had sent to instruct in ritual the barbarous English. Maban abode in Hexham twelve years, till he had trained a choir. Nor was Acca satisfied with merely providing for outward magnificence. He carefully brought together a large and noble library, consisting of theological works and lives of the saints.

In administering his diocese, Acca was a strict upholder of ecclesiastical discipline, and showed a worthy example to his clergy and people. He was renowned for his theological learning, and his advice was freely sought by students. His library at Hexham was probably of great service to Bede, with whom Acca stood in intimate relations. Their friendship began soon after Acca's coming to Hexham, as Bede dedicated his ‘Hexameron’ to Acca while still abbot. Bede mentions Acca as his authority for several things which he narrates in his ‘History’ (iii. 13, iv. 14). Eddius, in his preface to his ‘Life of Wilfrid,’ says that he undertook the work at Acca's instigation. Acca seems to have acted as an adviser and patron to men of letters. He was in constant correspondence with Bede about his ‘Commentaries on the Scriptures,’ and encouraged him to proceed with his work. Bede's Commentaries on Genesis, on St. Mark's Gospel, and on the Acts of the Apostles are all dedicated to Acca; and a poem of Bede on the Last Judgment, addressed to Acca, is interpolated into Simeon of Durham's ‘Chronicle’ (Twysden, 96, &c.). In the prologue to his ‘ Commentary on the Acts,’ Bede writes to Acca: ‘Accepi creberrimas beatitudinis tuæ literas, quibus me commonere dignatus es, ne mentis acumen inerti otio torpere et obdormire permittam.’ One only of these letters of Acca has come down to us (Bedæ Op. ed. 1563, v. 175; also Raine's Priory of Hexham, i. 33). In this letter Acca beseeches Bede to write a commentary on St. Luke's Gospel; he combats the plea that the work has been sufficiently done by St. Ambrose; he urges the need of a simpler commentary, and humorously exclaims, ‘Beatum Lucam luculento sermone expone.’

The end of Acca's life is obscure. In 732 he was driven from the see of Hexham. We do not know the reason; probably it was some cause connected with the still uncertain organisation of the Northumbrian dioceses. It cannot have been for any reason disgraceful to him, since he was revered by the monks of Hexham as a saint. Richard of Hexham (p. 35) records a story that Acca spent the years of his exile in organising the new diocese of Whithern, in Galloway. However this may be, Acca returned to Hexham before his death in 740. He was buried outside the east wall of the church, and two stone crosses of elaborate workmanship were erected over his grave (Simeon, in Twysden, 101). One of these crosses has been identified by Raine, and is engraved in the ‘Priory of Hexham’ (i. p. xxxiv). The remains of Acca were twice translated, once in the eleventh century and again in 1154. He is commemorated in the Calendar on 19 Feb. His miracles are recorded by Simeon of Durham, s. a. 740, and by Aelred, abbot of Rievaux (Raine, i. 184).

[Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, book v. chaps. 19, 20; Eddius, Vita Wilfridi, in Gale's Scriptores, i. 53, &c.; Simeon of Durham, De Gestis Regum Anglorum, in Twysden, Decem Scriptores, 94, &c.; also ed. G. Hinde for Surtees Society, s. a. 740; Richard of Hexham, in Raine's Priory of Hexham (Surtees Society), i. 18. The best modern account is given in Raine's Preface, xxx–xxxiv.]

M. C.