Wulfstan (1012?-1095) (DNB00)

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WULFSTAN, St. (1012?–1095), bishop of Worcester, son of Æthelstan and Wulfgifu, people of good position, who both in later life entered religion at Worcester, was born at Long Itchington, near Warwick, in or before 1012, for he is described as past fifty in 1062. After receiving his education in monastic schools, first at Evesham and afterwards at Peterborough, where his teacher was Ervenius, a skilful scribe and illuminator, who wrote a sacramentary for Canute [q. v.] and a psalter for his queen Emma [q. v.], he lived for a while as a layman, taking part in the sports of other young men. Between 1033 and 1038 he was ordained deacon and priest by Brihtheah, bishop of Worcester, who highly esteemed him and offered him a well-endowed living near his cathedral city. As his mother had roused in him a desire to become a monk, he refused the offer, received the habit from Brihtheah, and was admitted a monk of the cathedral monastery, where he held office first as schoolmaster, and afterwards as precentor and sacristan, and finally as prior under the bishop. He was distinguished for his asceticism, devotion, and humility, was always ready to instruct all who came to him, and was wont to journey about the country baptising the children of the poor, for it is said that the secular clergy refused to baptise without a fee.

The prior's virtues became widely known; Godgifu or Godiva [q. v.], the wife of Earl Leofric [q. v.], was much attached to him, many nobles esteemed him, and among them Earl Harold (1022?–1066), afterwards king. Aldred [q. v.], archbishop of York, having been forced by the pope to promise to resign the see of Worcester, two legates who were in England in 1062 visited Worcester and exhorted the clergy and people to choose Wulfstan as their bishop, and, having secured his election there, attended the Easter meeting of the witan and proposed his election by the assembly. Many spoke in his favour, and all approved; he was sent for, and on his arrival vehemently declined the office. His objections were overborne by the legates, the archbishops, and finally by a hermit named Wulfsige. He was consecrated by Aldred at York on 8 Sept., without making profession of obedience to Stigand [q. v.], whose position was uncanonical (Freeman, relying on Florence of Worcester, holds that he made profession to Stigand, but prints in an appendix his later profession to Lanfranc in which Wulfstan declares the contrary, Norman Conquest, ii. 466, 607).

Under a pretence of doing him honour, Aldred left him for some time in charge of the church of York, and took to himself the revenues of Worcester; nor was it without much difficulty that Wulfstan persuaded him to resign the temporalities of the see, with the exception of twelve estates which the archbishop insisted on withholding from him. As bishop, Wulfstan practised the same asceticism that had marked his earlier life; he was diligent in the administration of his diocese, constantly going about from place to place confirming the young, exhorting the people, and promoting church building. His connection with the diocese of York enabled him to be useful to Harold on his accession by helping to gain the allegiance of the Northumbrians. He made submission to the Conqueror, along with Aldred and other great ecclesiastics and laymen, at Berkhampstead. The property of his church was invaded by Urse [q. v.] of Abetot, sheriff of Worcester, who built his castle so that it encroached on the monastic cemetery, and Ealdred laid his curse on the offender. At the council of 1070, in which many English prelates were deprived, Wulfstan demanded the restitution of the twelve manors unjustly retained by Aldred, and then in the king's hands during the vacancy of the see of York by Aldred's death. A decision was deferred until a new archbishop had been appointed to York. Thomas (d. 1100) [q. v.], the next archbishop, claimed Wulfstan as one of his suffragans, but the see of Worcester was declared to be included in the southern province. It is probable that Wulfstan, who had suffered from the close connection between his see and the archbishopric of York, was on the side of Canterbury in this dispute. Both archbishops sought to have him deprived, Lanfranc on the ground of his ignorance, and Thomas for insubordination to himself. Nevertheless he kept his see. Later writers record a legend which represents the Conqueror demanding the resignation of Wulfstan's pastoral staff at a council at Westminster; Wulfstan went to the Confessor's tomb, and, addressing the dead king, declared that he would resign his staff only to him from whom he had received it. He struck his staff upon the tomb, saying ‘Take it, my lord king, and give it to whomsoever thou wilt.’ The marble opened to receive the staff and held it fast, nor could any remove it until a decision had been given in Wulfstan's favour, and then the staff was yielded to its rightful possessor (Ailred, ap. Twysden, cols. 405–7; Rog. Wend. ii. 52–5).

Both archbishops eventually became Wulfstan's friends; he helped Thomas by visiting parts of his diocese for him, and at Lanfranc's request held, probably in 1072, a visitation of the vacant diocese of Lichfield, where the Norman power had not yet been established. In that year Lanfranc obtained a decree from the king adjudging to the see of Worcester the twelve manors taken from it by Aldred. Wulfstan increased the number of monks in his cathedral monastery, was careful and strict about the performance of divine service, punishing any monks who came in late with a stroke of a ferule administered by his own hand, and rebuilt his cathedral church between 1084 and 1089, supplying it with all necessary furniture. The crypt and some other parts of his building still exist. When it was complete and the church built by St. Oswald had to be pulled down, he wept, saying that the men of old, if they had not stately buildings, were themselves a sacrifice to God, whereas ‘we pile up stones and neglect souls.’ He and his monks entered into a bond with six other monasteries to be obedient to God, St. Mary, and St. Benedict, to be loyal to the king and queen, and to perform certain masses and good works. He was diligent in his diocesan work, and, among the many churches which he built or restored, rebuilt St. Oswald's Church at Westbury in Gloucestershire and gave it to the monastery of Worcester. In confession as well as in preaching he was excellent, and many came to him for spiritual direction. He is said to have insisted that the married clergy of his diocese should either put away their wives or resign their benefices. While he was extremely abstemious he entertained others liberally, and when not dining with his monks would preside in his hall at the feasting of his followers, for he seems to have always had a number of armed retainers in his household, to which many rich youths were sent for education. Careful not only for the wants but the feelings of the poor, he instructed these youths whom he caused to serve poor people with food to do so with humility. He was much beloved by Normans as well as English, and was on friendly terms with Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances, who reproved him for the monastic plainness of his dress. The influence of his preaching is illustrated by its success at Bristol, where the merchants had long been in the habit of kidnapping their fellow-countrymen, and indeed women also, and selling them as slaves to the Irish. The Conqueror having tried in vain to put down this practice, Wulfstan often visited the town, staying there two or three months at a time, and preached against the slave trade, with such good effect that the people entirely abandoned it.

During the rebellion of 1075 he joined Urse, the sheriff, in calling out the force of his diocese, and posting it so as to prevent the rebel Earl of Hereford from crossing the Severn [see Fitzosbern, William]. In 1085 he assisted the commissioners for Worcestershire in taking the survey for Domesday, and at that time gained a suit against the abbot of Evesham as to the right of his church to the hundred of Oswaldslaw. When the rebels and their Welsh allies marched against Worcester in 1088, the bishop, who was faithful to William Rufus, armed his followers, and at the request of the garrison took up his abode in the castle. With his blessing, the loyal troops marched to battle, and the defeat of the rebels was attributed to his anathema. He strongly disapproved of the custom of wearing long hair, adopted by the vicious youths of the court, and when he had the chance would cut their locks with his pocket-knife. Nevertheless, the king held him in honour, as did also the nobles generally. Irish kings sought his favour; Malcolm III [q. v.] of Scotland and his queen, Margaret (d. 1093) [q. v.], desired his prayers; and among his correspondents were the pope, the archbishop of Bari, and the patriarch of Jerusalem. He was disabled by infirmity from attending the consecration of Anselm [q. v.] in December 1093. Early in 1094 his decision was requested with reference to a dispute between Archbishop Anselm and Maurice (d. 1107) [q. v.], bishop of London, as he was the only one left of the old English episcopate and was skilled in the English customs: he decided in favour of the archbishop. He fell sick at Easter, and at Whitsuntide sent for his friend, Robert Losinga (d. 1095) [q. v.], bishop of Hereford, confessed to him, and received the discipline. At the beginning of 1095 Robert again visited him, and he again confessed. He died on 18 Jan., and was believed at the moment of his death to have appeared to Bishop Robert, who was then with the king at Cricklade in Wiltshire. He was buried amid general lamentation in his church at Worcester. He was, so far as is known, a faultless character, and, save that he knew no more than was absolutely necessary for the discharge of his duties, a pattern of all monastic and of all episcopal virtues as they were then understood. Some miracles and prophecies are attributed to him. Immediately on his death he was reckoned as a saint, though less than fifty years later William of Malmesbury complains that the incredulity of the age slighted his miraculous power. He was canonised by Innocent III in 1203; his day in the calendar is 19 Jan. King John, when dying, commended his soul and body to God and St. Wulfstan, and was buried between Wulfstan and St. Oswald. Wulfstan's tomb escaped destruction in the fire of 1113; his shrine was melted down in 1216 to provide money for a payment demanded of the convent, and his body was translated to a new shrine on the dedication of the restored cathedral on 7 June 1218. Some of his relics were then divided and probably sold; a rib was obtained by William, abbot of St. Albans, who encased it in gold and silver, and dedicated an altar to St. Wulfstan (Gesta Abbatum S. Albani, i. 283; Chronica Majora, iii. 42).

[A Life of Wulfstan, written by Hemming, his sub-prior and the compiler of the Worcester Chartulary, is in Anglia Sacra, i. 541; another Life in English, by Coleman, a monk of Worcester and prior of Westbury, is not now known to exist. Florence of Worcester gives several biographical notices. William of Malmesbury's Life, founded on Coleman's work and written about 1140, is in Anglia Sacra, ii. 241; he also gives notices in Gesta Pontiff. and Gesta Regum; Eadmer's Hist. Nov., ed. Migne, supplies one or two facts. Many later writers give notices of him, and a Life was written by Capgrave, see AA. SS., Bolland, Jan. ii.; Freeman's Norman Conquest vols. ii–v. passim, Will. Rufus i. and ii. 475–81.]

W. H.