Saint of the week

St Wulfstan, 19th January

Born in 1009 in Long Itchington, Warwickshire, St Wulfstan was a Benedictine monk who became Bishop of Worcester. He was among the first of the Anglo-Saxon bishops to submit to King William I after the Norman Conquest of England.

He was educated by the Benedictines at Evesham and then Peterborough. His hagiographers tell us that St Wulfstan had a powerful love of purity and that as a young man he felt he had offended, on one occasion, by watching a woman dancing and became totally distraught with sorrow just to have been confronted by temptation.

He later put himself under the direction of Brihtheah, Bishop of Worcester, by whom he was ordained a priest. A member of the Benedictine community adjacent to Worcester Cathedral, he was entrusted with the instruction of children. During this time he became known for his piety, often spending whole nights in prayer in the cathedral church.

An indication of his uncompromising self-discipline came when he refused to eat meat again after he was distracted while he was celebrating Mass by the smell of a dinner roasting in the kitchen. His preaching was said to have often moved people to tears.

He was made prior of Worcester, against his wishes, and then in 1062 appointed Bishop of the see. He is credited with suppressing the scandalous practice among the citizens of Bristol of kidnapping young men and shipping them to Ireland as slaves.

Even before the Conquest, Norman bishops were being preferred to English sees ahead of Saxon clergy, largely because they were more attuned to the Continental reform movements that were reinvigorating and purifying the Church at that time. Many of these appointments had been made by St Edward the Confessor but the process accelerated with the arrival of the Duke of Normandy in 1066.

Visitation of Chester

St Wulfstan was one of the few Saxons to retain his see after the Conquest. Some writers, such as Bowden, have attributed this to a miracle said to have occurred at a Westminster synod where he was ordered to surrender his crosier and ring.

The saint protested that he had received his office from St Edward by the authority of the Holy See and to him alone would resign it. He then placed his crosier on the king’s tomb, saying: “Take this, my master, and deliver it to whom you will.”

No-one was able to dislodge the crosier from the tomb, however, and St Wulstan was able to retrieve it with his episcopal authority.

Afterwards the Conqueror recognised St Wulfstan’s worth and treated him with respect and trust, with the reforming Archbishop Lanfranc commissioning him to make a visitation of the Diocese of Chester as his deputy.

St Wulfstan later defended the castle at Worcester for William during the barons’ uprising of 1074 and again against the Welsh in 1088 when William II was on the throne.

He was renowned for his generosity to the poor and he taught the wealthy the virtue of humility, making the sons of the rich, who were being educated by at the priory school, wait on poor people at the table.

St Wulfstan rebuilt his cathedral at Worcester in 1086. He died in 1095 at the age of 87 years, having spent 32 of them as a bishop.

Source: Butler’s Lives of the Saints