Beato de Liébana
One of the most important characters during the Asturian monarchy, and undoubtedly the most important since the religious and cultural views, it was this monk of the Monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana -then San Martín de Turieno-, who besides writing an extensive literary work, participated, along with Eterio, bishop of Osma and his disciple, in an important theological controversy with Elipando, metropolitan bishop and primate of Toledo, in which Pope Hadrian I and even Charlemagne had to intervene. He also actively participated in politics as advisor to King Silo, in addition to being master of Queen Adosinda, and was the creator of the legend of Santiago Apóstol as patron of Spain, only a few years before the opportune “discovery” of his tomb in Iria Flavia.
Born before the year 750, nothing is known of the origins of Beato, although by his level of knowledge and by the bibliography he handled, which does not seem likely to exist previously in a place so far removed from the Picos de Europa, assumed that he could emigrate to Asturias during the time of Alfonso I, perhaps as part of a monastic community of Visigoth origin that had survived until then in the Castilian plateau, which also transported his library, founding the monastery we call today Santo Toribio de Liébana.
What we do know about this character, who sometimes appears as a priest and sometimes as an abbot, is that from then on, until about the year 790, he was very active in three complementary but perfectly differentiated areas, who came to have a great transcendence and who make him one of the most significant figures of Christian Spain of the eighth century.
From the point of view of religious literature, he wrote the twelve books of his “Commentaries on the Apocalypse of Saint John”, well advanced in the year 776 although he would not terminate it until 786 as recorded in the dedication to his disciple Eterius. This great work became in the following centuries the origin of a large set of magnificent manuscripts miniados “the Blessed” that have made it the best known book of the European Middle Ages, although its original has not reached us.
Another work that proved to be of great significance for the history of Spain and for the Catholic Church was the “O Dei verbum”, written in 785, which includes a hymn in honor of the apostle Santiago, where for the first time the apostle is mentioned as “The Golden and Effulgent Head of Spain” what will be the origin of the legend of the trip of Santiago the Major to Spain that would end up making him our patron.
He also acquired great renown for his writings “De Adoptione Christi Filii Dei” and “Apologetic”, in his intervention in 784 and 785 in favor of the theses of Alcuin of York against the Adoptionist theory defended by the bishops Elipando of Toledo and Felix of Urgel, who questioned the divine nature of Jesus, suspiciously bringing Christian Trinitarian doctrine closer to Islamic unity from a bishopric located in the middle of the Arab territory. This controversy, which forced Charlemagne to convene a council in Regensburg in 792 and in which the thesis of Blessed triumphed, which despite not attending the council was one of the great protagonists of the debate, allowed it to become known throughout Europe.
His third activity, also important but less known, was politics, since in addition to his collaboration with King Silo and his wife Adosinda, he also had to have good relations with Mauregato, to whom he dedicated the acrostics of the “O Dei verbum”. But much more significant for the kingdom Asturian were the consequences of their dispute with Elipando, which made known the Kingdom of Asturias in the Europe of Charlemagne and allowed to move the spiritual center of Catholicism in Spain from Toledo, that it continued being the primate seat despite being located in Muslim territory, towards the new Christian kingdom of the north and that it would be fixed soon after in Santiago de Compostela. Another of his fundamental actions, both from the political and cultural and religious point of view was his contribution to the myth of Santiago as a patron of Spain, which promoted the development of the Camino de Santiago with all that this route of communication meant in the following centuries for the relationship and cultural exchange between Spain and the rest of Europe.
We do not know the date of his death, which must have occurred in the early 11th century, before the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle James. It seems that after the return of Alfonso II to the throne in 791 his influence in the Asturian court was considerably reduced, since, although it is known that in 799 he received a letter from Alcuin of York, there is no other news of his last years.