Saturday, 19 January 2008

St Wulfstan of Worcester

It’s always good to celebrate the English saints and today we remember one who is included in the new English Calendar, although he is perhaps not very well known - St Wulfstan of Worcester. Born in Warwickshire around 1008, he joined the Benedictine monastery at Worcester and eventually became Prior. He was well-known for his holiness and asceticism. On one occasion, he was celebrating Mass and was so distracted by the smell of a tasty goose that was being cooked for dinner, that he decided there and then to give up meat and become a vegetarian.

In 1062 he became bishop of Worcester. Four years later the Normans conquered England and St Wulfstan was the only Saxon bishop allowed to remain in office, partly because King William preferred monastic bishops and partly because of his much-admired pastoral care of his flock. One legend relates that the Archbishop of Canterbury doubted his ability and asked St Wulfstan to resign. On hearing this, he rammed his crozier into the stone of the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, the last Saxon King. Rather like King Arthur’s Excalibur, no one could pull it out but St Wulfstan, which was seen as Divine confirmation of his office.

Bishop Wulfstan made Worcester a centre of liturgy and chant, and re-built the Cathedral. There is a rather touching story of the saint shedding tears at the destruction of the old Cathedral, which was the work of saints who knew not how to build fine churches but knew how to sacrifice themselves to God, whatever roof might be over them. Rather remarkably, St Wulfstan preached against the trade of Irish slaves in nearby Bristol and actually managed to stop it.

St Wulfstan died in January of 1095 - according to one tradition he passed away while washing the feet of a dozen poor men, which was his daily custom. Miracles were soon attributed to his intercession, including the healing of King Harold's daughter, and he was canonised by Innocent III in 1203. ‘Bad King John’ had a great devotion to the saint and was buried near his shrine at Worcester.



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