Thursday, 17 January 2013

Saint Wulfstan’s Legacy

          Wulfstan was born in 1007 and became a monk at the age of 26. He was master of the monastery’s school and later took up the post of Precentor. After this, he was elected prior in 1050 and guided the 12 monks resident at Worcester. Wulfstan was consecrated as Bishop of Worcester in 1062 and held his position until his death in 1095. During his Bishopric, the monastery at Worcester increased to 50 monks and consequently he had to give them more land, as seen in Wulfstan’s Charter, displayed in the Library.

Saint Wulfstan in the Cathedral's Goodman window. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Bishop Wulfstan was an impressive character.  He was against the continuing of married priests in his diocese –  announcing that they should either give up their women or their priesthood!  This was in accordance with the reform of the Church as promoted by the papacy from the mid 11th century in which clerical marriage was censured. Wulfstan expected his monks and congregation to adhere to Christianity in the strictest sense; it is recorded that he recited Psalms repeatedly when travelling on horseback anywhere as a sign of his unwavering faith and conviction.

Wulfstan on the Cathedral's Jesus Chapel Reredos. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy. Reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)  
            Wulfstan can be regarded as a modern man through his efforts to decry and abolish the slave trade. The diocese of Worcester extended as far down as Gloucestershire, which included the city of Bristol. Wulfstan made regular journeys to Bristol and would reside there for 2 to 3 months at a time in order that his residence there would make an impression upon the community. Bristol was one of the capitals of the slave trade in Britain and traded slaves native to England, Scotland and Wales. People resorted to slavery when they were severely impoverished, often families would sell their children into the trade. When a person was enslaved in Bristol, the process had to be undertaken in a public place with witnesses so that the slave could not deny their slavery at a later date. Thus, this measure reveals that it would have been nigh impossible to work a way out of the slave trade as, during the public process, you had relinquished all personal rights to your master. Wulfstan succeeded in abolishing the slave trade in Bristol by converting the traders, this accomplishment initiated a reform of the slave trade elsewhere in Britain.   

Part of Saint Wulfstan's charter of 1089. Photograph by Mr. Christopher  Guy. Reproduced  by permission of the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

            Wulfstan died in 1095 and was buried in the choir of the cathedral church built during his time as bishop. However, this was damaged in the fire of 1202 yet his legacy remained paramount as it was rededicated to him (and his predecessor, Oswald) along with Saint Peter and the Virgin Mary.
Colette Davies

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