Thursday, 10 January 2013

Saint Oswald of Worcester and Fleury Monastery, France

If one wanted to become a monk in the mid 10th century and practice the most up to date monastic life, there was no place better to go than the monasteries of France. This was exactly that path which Oswald undertook when he believed that he could not yield a positive influence upon the English public.

Saint Oswald Bishop of Worcester. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Oswald was part of the monastic community at Winchester Cathedral before departing for Fleury as he believed he could lead a more productive monastic life in the French monastery than he could in England. His uncle had previously been a monk at Fleury and it was also this same uncle who first introduced Oswald to a religious education. This connection inspired Oswald to depart thence. Fleury had an active and significant scriptorium in the latter half of the 10th century. On Oswald’s return to England in 958, it is possible that the two Continental scripts which Worcester Cathedral Library now possesses, works of Gregory and Eusebius, travelled back along with him. 

The beginning of Pope Gregory's forty homilies. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
When Oswald returned to Worcester, the Bishop’s seat was in St. Peter’s Church. He deemed this church far too small for his preaching and moved his sermons outside onto the churchyard in order that he could preach to a larger community. Through this, he also gained more funding which he put towards the construction of a new Church, St Mary’s, completed in 983. After this Church had been finished, Oswald brought an associate of his over from the Fleury monastery, Germanus, in order to assist in the training of new monks.
A lot happened to Oswald in the year of 972. Primarily, he was made the Archbishop of York whilst retaining his seat as Bishop of Worcester. There are many possible reasons why he held these two seats simultaneously in time; most probable of which was his worry that if he departed Worcester for York, his efforts of establishing the Benedictine monastery would suffer in its faith and organisation.  Secondly and according to Byrhtferth of Ramsey, he also assisted in the Coronation of King Edgar, along with Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury and former Bishop of Worcester. This coronation is significant as its description forms the basis of all coronations since.
Oswald died on 29th February 992 and was buried in the Cathedral Church of St Mary. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Saint Oswald’s and Saint Wulfstan’s bones were taken from their shrines and buried somewhere near the High Altar.

Oswald washes the feet of the poor just before his death. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Did you know? Oswald insisted on washing the feet of 12 poor men every day during Lent, drawing a parallel with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and through which, he instructed them to promote his teachings among others. Oswald’s benevolent act can be seen in a stained glass window in the north cloister – keep an eye out for it!

Colette Davies

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