A forgotten English saint.
19th January is the day that celebrates the Worcester Bishop Wulfstan (c1008 – 1095). As you can see by the dates, he lived through one of the most traumatic times in the history of England, the Norman Conquest. He was a close confidante of Harold Godwinson, Harold the Second, the last crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England. How he survived the invasion, and kept his bishopric is strange as most others were replaced over the coming years by Normans.
There is a story that when he was ordered to surrender his staff, he stuck it into the tomb of King Edward saying that only Edward, who had appointed him, could take it off him. No-one could remove the staff but Wulfstan, so he kept his role. But perhaps it was his dedication to others and his reputation for healing and prophesies that saved him becoming de-robed. He dedicated his work to helping the poor and is known to have ended the slave trade from Bristol. He was a social reformer in difficult times, operating under a new regime.
He wore lambskins, not decorated robes, and was a vegetarian.
He was buried in Worcester Cathedral (his favourite rebuild) and shortly after a ‘hagiography’ or saint’s life was written about him. It wasn’t long before people started reporting miraculous cures that happened at his tomb. One of these miracles was the curing of King Harold’s daughter, although it’s not documented what was wrong with her.
He was one of the top saints in the Middle Ages. In those times, people undertook arduous journeys to shrines to receive some form of divinity, be it a cure, a message, or a relic (the trade in pieces of tombs, clothing, sacred jewellery and bones was very popular).
Pilgrimages in St Wulfstan’s name continued until the early 1700’s.
King John, at his own request, was buried between St Wulfstan and St Oswald in the Cathedral in 1216. At the time of the Reformation his shrine was destroyed, and his bones buried near the high altar.
Today, he is one of England’s lost saints. We do not celebrate his day still as we do dragon slayers, but here is a man who dedicated his life to ending the suffering of poverty and slavery, in a time of great change.
‘Sole survivor of the old Fathers of the English people.’ Saint Wulfstan of Worcester.
Thank you for reading.
The English Year, Steve Roud, 2006.