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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