jeudi 19 janvier 2017

Saint WULFSTAN (WOLSTAN) de WORCESTER, prieur bénédictin et évêque

Saint Wulfstan

Évêque de Worcester et archevêque d'York ( 1095)

ou Vulstan.

Évêque de Worcester, les historiens anglais le tiennent pour une des grandes figures de son époque. Par son amour de la justice, par ses vertus et son courage, il s'était acquis l'admiration de tous. Il fonda beaucoup d'écoles, releva le niveau moral du clergé, contribua à l'abolition de l'esclavage. Il avait un certain goût de la liberté. Alors qu'il était abbé de son monastère, il autorisait les moines qui craignaient de s'enrhumer à garder les cheveux longs et non pas la tonsure. En hiver, lui-même portait un gilet en peau d'agneau, alors que les moines l'avaient en peau de chat. A un moine qui lui demandait pourquoi il se singularisait, il répondit: "On dit bien : agneau de Dieu, aie pitié de moi... et non pas chat de Dieu..."

À Worcester en Angleterre, l’an 1095, saint Wulstan, évêque. Prieur du monastère de la cathédrale, il fut élevé sur le siège épiscopal et joignit les habitudes de vie monastique au zèle du pasteur: il mit le plus grand soin à visiter les paroisses, à inciter à la construction d’églises, à favoriser les lettres, ainsi qu’à condamner les marchands d’esclaves.

Martyrologe romain

Wulfstan of Worcester, OSB B (AC)
(also known as Wulstan, Ulfstan)

Born at Long Itchington (Icentum), Warwickshire, England, c. 1008; died in Worcester, England, 1095; canonized in 1203 by Pope Innocent III; feast of his translation June 7.

In his youth, Wulfstan is said to have perceived himself so besieged by lust upon seeing a woman dance that he threw himself into a thicket and beseeched God with contrition. From that time he was gifted with constant watchfulness over his senses, which prevented him from being similarly tempted thereafter.

Wulstan of Worcester, last of the Anglo-Saxon bishops, was educated at the monastic schools of Evesham and Peterborough, where he excelled in piety and sports. His parents, Athelstan and Wulfgeva, are said to have taken monastic habits at Worcester by mutual consent. Wulfstan was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Brihtheah of Worcester, in whose household he lived prior to his ordination. He was offered a richly endowed parish, but refused it. He served for a time as vicar of a parish near Chipping Sodbury.

He is said to have practiced greater austerities in the world than most monks in their monasteries. At first he permitted meat in his diet. But when he was one day distracted from saying Mass by the smell of roasting meat in the kitchen, he forsook eating any flesh in the future. Soon thereafter he entered the monastery of Worcester cathedral, where he was remarkable for the innocence and sanctity of his life. Wulfstan served the community as schoolmaster, and then, in turn, held the offices of precentor, sacristan, and prior of this small community of 12 monks. As precentor and sacristan he devoted himself totally to prayer and watched whole nights in the church.

As prior of the house, he restored its fortunes, religious and temporal. He regained lands which had been alienated, reformed its finances, and improved the monastic observance. He was not renowned as a scholar and wrote no theology, but was a great evangelist who drew crowds and moved them to tears by his preaching. He also had great pastoral qualities, which so impressed his superiors that when the bishopric of Worcester fell vacant in 1062 (because of Aldred's promotion to the diocese of York), he was nominated by the papal legates and approved by King Saint Edward and his council.
With characteristic humility, Wulfstan initially shrank from such high preferment, but finally accepted it under obedience. Upon his consecration by Aldred of York just four years before the Normans conquered England, he rejoiced in the fuller opportunities it offered for the exercise of his pastoral gifts. His unique talents allowed him effectively to combine governance of the monastery and his diocese. The monk Coleman, Wulfstan's biographer, described the bishop as "of middle height . . . always in good health . . . neither lavish nor niggardly in the choice of clothes and in his general standard of living."

Beloved by all, in the midst of a busy life he preserved the simple habits of a monk and the zeal of an evangelist, nor were any who sought his help turned from his door. "Troubled by people!" he exclaimed to those who remonstrated with him because he was always so accessible. "Why, that is what I am here for." Yet for all his humility he found it difficult to suffer fools gladly, and on one occasion when pestered by a titled woman who wasted his time with her pious chatter, he rounded on her and boxed her ears. Not even the saints are perfect.

He was an able administrator and a great church builder. He encouraged the building of churches on his own manors and on those of lay lords, and also rebuilt part of Worcester Cathedral (c. 1086). He said, "The men of old, if they had not stately buildings were themselves a sacrifice to God, whereas we pile up stones, and neglect souls." To rectify this, his days were primarily occupied in extensive visitation throughout his wide diocese and in crowded confirmation services which would last throughout the whole of a summer's day. He was the first English bishop to regularly visit all portions of his diocese, which he did in the company of two clerks--one carrying alms and the other the oil of confirmation.

As he travelled from place to place, he recited his psalter, and he never passed a church or chapel without stopping to pour out his soul before the altar with tears, which seemed to be always ready in his eyes for prayer. He has been called the Bishop of the Market-Place because of his plain and homely speech. He loved nothing better than to sit in the porches of the churches he visited and to talk kindly to the village people and gather the children round him.

Always outspoken, he rebuked the headstrong King Harold, who once walked 30 miles out of his way to make confession and receive Wulfstan's blessing. Wulfstan also withstood Blessed Lanfranc, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who at first tried to remove him.

In 1066, King Harold sent Wulfstan as his representative to Northumbria to ensure their loyal support. Wulfstan, obviously, was unsuccessful, but not blameworthy. After the Battle of Hastings, which he recognized as decisive, he was one of the first bishops to acknowledge William the Conqueror.

As the Normans spread across the country, appropriating property, despising the Anglo-Saxons as inferior, and taking over bishoprics and abbeys, Wulfstan preserved a rugged independence. He called the Normans 'the Scourge of God' and refused to surrender his cathedral. The Normans downplayed the cults of the Saxon saints. Wulfstan, therefore, in order to prevent the faith and culture of the poor from being eroded, showed heightened devotion to indigenous saints, such as King Saint Oswald, Venerable Saint Bede (to whom he dedicated a church), Dunstan, and a predecessor in the see of Worcester, Bishop Saint Oswald, whose abstinence and generosity to the poor Wulfstan imitated and surpassed.

A man of simplicity, he was accused of being unfit to be a bishop at the synod at Westminster but eventually, though speaking no French, he convinced all of his ability, and succeeded in being left in possession. Apparently, he convinced them by a miracle. When ordered to give up his crozier, he sunk it into the stone tomb of King Edward, who had insisted upon his consecration, and no one could remove it except Wulfstan.

He was one of the few Anglo-Saxon bishops allowed to retain his see, perhaps because he tried to alleviate public unrest over the oppression of the Normans. He gained the respect of William the Conqueror and helped him against the barons during an uprising in 1074. (Later, in 1088, he supported William II against the barons and Welsh, providing for the defense of Worcester Castle.) They considered him simple and old-fashioned, but he was more than a match for them. Eventually, he was so trusted that Lanfranc commissioned him to make the visitation of the diocese of Chester as his deputy.

Among his greatest achievements was his successful crusade against the Irish slave trade, the profits from which helped to swell the royal exchequer. Slaves in large numbers were brought from Ireland and sold in Bristol and elsewhere. Stirred by its inhumanity and encouraged by Lanfranc, who also worked toward this end, he opposed it on Christian grounds and, after bold and fierce denunciation, secured its abolition. For months on end he preached at the slave market in Bristol against the inhumanity of selling the poor into slavery to repay a debt. He was the first Englishman who helped to free the slave.

Wulfstan supported Lanfranc's policy of reform. Worcester became a suffragan see to Canterbury, ending its earlier ambivalent relation to York (often the bishop of York retained the see of Worcester). He also zealously enforced the discipline of priestly celibacy (a thankless task in those days), refounded the monastery at Westbury-on-Trym, and insisted upon the use of stone, not wood, for altars. He was scandalized to learn that priests required a fee to baptize children, and stopped this simonous practice.

Although Wulfstan was not an especially educated man himself, he encouraged learning among his clergy. (It should be noted, however, that a late legend implying that he was poorly educated is false. Contemporary evidence suggests he had an average education for an Anglo-Saxon bishop of his day.) Wulfstan sent his favorite disciple to Canterbury for further education and contact between the two communities was fostered by Eadmer. It is interesting to note that in his cathedral he would comment in English on the Latin reading. During his episcopate, Worcester became one of the most important centers of Old English literature and culture.

He showed the most tender care for penitents, and often wept over them while they confessed their sins to him. On Holy Thursday he would distribute food and clothing to the poor, hear public confessions, and then share a meal with the shriven penitents--a sign of the heavenly banquet.

Wulstan had a great love of the poor. Each Sunday in Lent he washed, fed, and clothed them. One year he ordered each estate to contribute clothing for one, shoes for ten, and food for 100. He remained humble and taught others the same. Noblemen sent them their sons to him to be educated and one of their greatest lessons was in humility. He always invited the poor to dine with them and insisted the young men in his charge personally serve the poor at table as honored guests.

Professor David Knowles writes of Saint Wulfstan, "He is, indeed, a most attractive figure, too little known to his countrymen . . .; the last, and certainly one of the greatest, of the [early] bishops of pure English blood and culture."

He lived to the great age of 87 and served as bishop for 32 years, seeking neither rest nor retirement, loved to the end by his own people, and respected by their Norman conquerors. In 1095, Wulfstan appeared in a vision to his friend Robert, bishop of Hereford, bidding him to come to Worcester where he would die. He died while engaged in his daily practice of washing the feet of twelve poor men.

Miracles were reported at his tomb almost at once. From 1200, full and detailed records of the cures were kept in preparation for his canonization, which was granted by Pope Innocent III. William Rufus had Wulfstan's tomb covered with gold and silver. King John asked to be buried near him. His relics were translated in 1198. In 1216, the precious metals of his tomb were removed to pay a levy of 300 marks to Prince Louis of France. His relics were translated to a more magnificent shrine in 1218. At that time, Abbot William of Saint Albans removed one of the saint's ribs, took it back to the abbey, and built a shrine over it. In 1273, Edward I made a thanksgiving at Wulfstan's shrine after the conquest of Wales. Although only one church dedication honors his memory, his feast day is widely celebrated on monastic and diocesan calendars (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Gill, Husenbeth, Knowles, Lamb, Markus, Walsh, White).

In art Saint Wulstan is a bishop fixing his crozier in the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor with the devil behind him. He may also be shown (1) appearing to the king for judgment at the tomb of Saint Edward; (2) offering up Worcester Cathedral at the altar; or (3) in episcopal vestments, a monk presents charter and seal to him (Roeder).


Venerated at Long Itchington, Evesham, and Peterborough. Wulstan is the patron of peasants (Roeder). 

St. Wolstan

Benedictine, and Bishop of Worcester, b. at Long Itchington, Warwickshire, England, about 1008; d. at Worcester, 19 January, 1095. Educated at the great monastic schools of Evesham and Peterborough, he resolutely combated and overcame the temptations of his youth, and entered the service of Brithege, Bishop of Worcester, who ordained him priest about 1038. Refusing all ecclesiastical preferment, he became a novice in the great priory of Worcester, and after holding various offices in the monastery became cathedral prior there. He held this position, edifying all by his charity, holiness of life, and strict observance of the rule, until 1062, when the See of Worcester fell vacant by the translation of Bishop Aldred to the Archbishopric of York. Two Roman cardinals, who had been Wolstan's guests at Worcester during Lent, recommended the holy prior to King Edward for the vacant see, to which he was consecrated on 8 September, 1062. Not a man of special learning or commanding intellect, he devoted his whole life to the care of his diocese, visiting, preaching, and confirming without intermission, rebuilding his cathedral in the simple Saxon style, planting new churches everywhere, and retaining the ascetic personal habits which he had acquired in the cloister. His life, notwithstanding his assiduous labours, was one of continuous prayer and recollection; the Psalms were always on his lips, and he recited the Divine Office aloud with his attendants as he rode through the country in discharge of his episcopal duties. Wolstan was the last English bishop appointed under a Saxon king, the last episcopal representative of the Church of Bede and of Cuthbert, and the link between it and the Church of Lanfranc and Anselm. After the Conquest, when nearly all the Saxon nobles and clergy were deprived of their offices and honours in favour of the Normans, Wolstan retained his see, and gradually won the esteem and confidence both of Lanfranc and of the Conqueror himself. Ælred of Rievaulx tells the legend of his being called upon to resign his bishopric, and of his laying his crozier on the tomb of Edward the Confessor at Westminster. The crozier remained immoveable — a sign from heaven, as was believed, that the holy bishop was to retain his see. He survived both William the Conqueror and Lanfranc, and was one of the consecrators of St. Anselm.

Hunter-Blair, Oswald. "St. Wolstan." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 19 Jan. 2017 <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Charlie Martin.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.