St Wulstan of Worcester

When I lived in Worcester St Wulstan was not only a local saint, he was a very approachable one. Much that we saw when we looked out of the monastery windows would have been familiar to him. As Benedictines, we lived by the same Rule and ordered our days by a similar horarium. It helped that he was one of the bridges between the old Anglo-Saxon world and the new world of the Norman Conquest, keeping his see when the other Anglo-Saxon bishops lost theirs. We admired his work to end the slave trade (see this post for a reflection on the same), chuckled over his habit of repeating lines of the Office that he particularly enjoyed (very trying to his companions, no doubt) and were moved by Colman’s stories of his washing the feet of the poor and his generosity towards those in need. Even allowing for the hagiographer’s touch of rose, Wulstan was the kind of saint we could actually like; and we didn’t think much of Emma Mason’s debunking account of 1990.

It would be a mistake to conclude that Wulstan was a holy fool, a man who spent all his time in prayer, devotion and works of mercy and was not taken seriously by his contemporaries. Wulstan was socially well-connected and made the most of his connections. His personal humility did not extend to ignoring or playing down the rights of his see, nor did his zeal for reform or his extensive building plans suggest a weak character. He is thus a much more challenging figure than many will admit. What has always struck me about Wulstan is that, for all his very considerable charm, he was a man of iron will. Even the often-repeated anecdote about his being distracted at prayer by the smell of a goose roasting and vowing that he would never eat meat again if he could be freed of the temptation is evidence of his determination not to be deflected from what he thought was right.

I wonder how many of us have thought about the kind of sanctity that Wulstan demonstrates, the very capable sanctity of a man who fulfilled his office with care but did not limit himself to the immediate concerns of his own diocese? For most of us there is a difficult balance to be maintained between the obvious duties of our life and the wider concerns of the society in which we live. Wulstan’s holiness as both monk and bishop reminds us that achieving that balance, resolving some of its implicit contradictions, is both possible and worthwhile. Today let us ask his prayers for all who feel pulled in many directions but who recognize the pull of our Lord Jesus Christ as the most important of all.

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8 thoughts on “St Wulstan of Worcester

  1. Is St. Wulstan the same as St. Wulfstan (who has a street named after him in Cambridge)?

    I smiled reading your post, as it made me recall an elderly church warden, who I had known as a young organist. She was also apt to re-read her favourite lines in the service, when having to take it because of a shortage of clergy. Monica was a lovely, and very down-to-earth, lady, and I think would have rather liked Wulstan.

    • I wonder if the Cambridge street is named for our Wulstan’s uncle, also called Wulstan (or Wulfstan) who was archbishop of York earlier in the eleventh century (having been previously been bishop of London and of Worcester, which latter he held at the same time as he was archbishop of York, but who was never declared a saint, despite there being reports of miracles at his tomb? He wrote some very hard-hitting sermons on the Antichrist and was involved in drafting law codes for both Ethelred and Cnut. He is probably best remembered for his Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, The Sermon of the Wolf to the English. It’s written in Old English and makes a connection between the Viking raids and the failure of the English people to live godly lives.

      • That could be him. There’s some sort of link between Wulfstan and Radegund if that’s any help – as there are streets near each other named after both. And a link somehow to Jesus College, who owned the land on which the streets were built around the 1930s. A friend lived near there, whose father was a clergyman. At one time they owned 2 cats named after the saints!

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