National Centre for Early Music

[Skip navigation]
Navigation Menu

Alcuin and the Carolingian Renaissance

Alcuin was an Anglo-Saxon who was born in the north of England and was educated in York, where he later became a teacher at what is now St Peter's School. Having been sent on a mission to Rome, he met Charlemagne, the ruler of the Frankish Empire. Charlemagne was impressed by Alcuin's scholarship and his ability as a teacher, and persuaded him to teach at Charlemagne's court school.

Alcuin's enthusiasm for teaching and learning helped to drive the Carolingian Renaissance, the flowering of literature, music and culture that emanated from Charlemagne's court and across his empire. The educational grounding and love of literature which Alcuin acquired in York inspired him to collect and preserve writing from classical antiquity, and to disseminate this learning across Europe. The ancient texts that Alcuin and his contemporaries preserved were 'rediscovered' and once more revered during the Renaissance of the sixteenth century. Europe owes at least part of its cultural heritage to this humble teacher.

These web pages contain information and teaching resources about Alcuin, Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance. Some of the information and activity sheets are suitable for children in upper Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3. Other information sheets and activity ideas are appropriate to provide background information for teachers. There are three sections:

Section 1: Music and Musicians

This section explores the music of Anglo-Saxon and Carolingian times. It contains information sheets about the music, and the way it was written down. It includes mp3 recordings of examples of sacred and secular Carolingian music, as well as pdf files of some of the music in modern notation.

Section 2: Renaissance and the Rebirth of Learning

This section contains information sheets about Alcuin and Charlemagne. It also contains an activity sheet about Alcuin's teaching techniques and some mathematical problems to try.

Section 3: Calligraphy and Creative Writing

This section contains information about the development of Carolingian scripts, including information about styles of lettering and the decoration of illuminated manuscripts. There are activity sheets on Saxon poetry, illuminated letters and Celtic knotwork.


Credits and bibliographical information: Fact Sheet 10.pdf