Friday, January 30, 2015

St. Wulfstan and St.Wulfric

by Lauren Gilbert

These two saints were both native Englishmen living during the upheaval of the period after the Norman Conquest. They were found in the same general area and are celebrated a month apart in the calendar: Wulfstan on January 19 and Wulfric on February 20. Their times may have overlapped, and it is not beyond reason to think that they may have been acquainted or at least may have known of each other. Yet how different they were, with one an influential bishop and the other a hermit. Both, however, were venerated during and after their respective lives.


Wulfstan was born approximately 1008 A.D. during the reign of Ethelred II and was a native of Long Itchington, Warwickshire. He studied at Evesham and Peterborough, and his education supposedly concluded at Peterborough about 1024. Subsequently he came under the direction of Brihtheah, Bishop of Worcester. Wulfstan joined the Benedictine monastery at Worcester and was ordained a priest in 1034. His first responsibility at the monastery was teaching children. He then advanced to precentor (a precentor’s duties at this time including being first or lead in chant, recruiting and teaching the choir, and ordering the Divine office), and subsequently became treasurer of the church. However, Wulfstan was drawn to a life of purity, and his main focus was prayer, often keeping vigil whole nights in the church. He was noted for living his life dedicated to God and was advanced to prior of Worcester in 1055 A.D. in spite of his protests.

In 1062, Wulfstan became bishop of the See of Worcester. Wulftstan was not famed as a scholar for his learning but was an affecting and impressive speaker, often leaving the congregation in tears. His duties included acting as magistrate for the Shire Court and attending seasonal gatherings of the royal court at Dover. He was credited with halting a heinous practice in Bristol which involved kidnapping men then selling them into slavery in Ireland. His duties required a lot of travel, and, while travelling, he recited psalms along the way and was known to visit every church and chapel he passed to pray. In the course of his duties, he met with influential people, including Harald Godwinson. Wulfstan was present at the crowing of Harald at Westminster Abbey after the death of King Edward in 1066. He was also present for the coronation of William the Conqueror after the death of Harald and the Battle of Hastings later the same year.

Wulfstan was unusual in that he was a Saxon bishop at the time of the Norman conquest and managed to maintain his office when English officials and dignitaries, in and out of the church, were being replaced by Normans. He was supposedly the only Englishman still holding his office in 1071. William the Conqueror came to respect and trust Wulfstan. Lanfranc (priest and counsellor of William the Conqueror, who held many offices, including Archbishop of Canterbury from 1070-1089) sent Wulfstan to visit the diocese of Chester as his deputy. Wulfstan apparently considered the Normans to be a punishment from God to be accepted patiently and chided any native English complaints about the Normans with this thought. He also tried to mediate with the Normans to lessen the harshness of the decrees against the Saxons. He set an example of humility and service. He even defended Worcester Castle for William during the barons’ uprising of 1074 and against the Welsh in 1088 when William II was king.

About 1086 A.D. the old cathedral at Worcester had to be demolished, and Wulfstan built a new one. He died in 1095, having served as bishop for 32 years, and was canonized in 1203 A.D. by Pope Innocent III, becoming known as St. Wulfstan. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral.


Wulfric was born at Compton (now Compton Martin), near Bristol, which was part of the diocese of Worcester. His parents were apparently English (Saxon). His date of birth is unknown, but there is speculation that he may have been born about 1090 A.D. It is not impossible that he may have actually seen or met Wulfstan; it is certainly likely that Wulfric knew of Wulfstan. Wulfric was trained for the priesthood and was ordained, but that did not stop him from enjoying a very secular life full of hunting and hawking. He was serving as a priest at Deverill, not far from Warminster, when he experienced a transfiguration of faith and radically changed his life.

Wulfric looked for a place to live a solitary, austere life devoted to God, and William FitzWalter offered him a cell connected to the church at Haselbury in Somerset approximately 1125 A.D. Living as an anchorite, Wulfric scourged himself, immersed himself in frequent and long cold baths, fasted, and wore a chain mail hauberk next to his skin, frequently prostrating himself and spending the night in the church in prayer. One of his miracles involved cutting his hauberk shorter with ordinary scissors as it interfered with his devotions. Wulfric served Mass daily and occupied himself in the copying and binding of books.

Although he was known for many miracles, including healing a mute man who was suddenly able to speak both both English and French, Wulfric was famous for prophesy and was visited by many from near and far, including King Henry I and King Stephen. He was credited with having accurately prophesied King Henry’s death to the King himself and subsequently lectured King Stephen for the iniquities of his rule. There is no record of Wulfric being canonized after his death on February 20, 1154. However, he was greatly venerated for his wonders and prophesies. He was buried in the cell where he had lived, which is now the site of the vestry of the present church at Haselbury. Stories of his works were perpetuated by a strong oral tradition, and his tomb was a popular pilgrimage site into the Reformation.

Sources include:
Catholic On-line. “St. Wulfric.”
Catholic On-Line. “St Wulfstan.”
Catholic Herald (on line). “The hermit who informed an English king he would soon die” by Spiritual Life, posted 2/21/2013.
A Clerk of Oxford (blog). “A Miracle of Wulfric of Haselbury.” Posted 2/20/2013 by A Clerk of Oxford.
Diocese of Shrewsbury (on line). “Saint of the Week St. Wulfstan 19 January.” Posted for week starting 1/14/2012.
John of Forde. The Life of Wulfric of Haselbury, the Anchorite. Introduction, translation and notes by Pauline Mattaraso. 2011: Cistercian Publication, Liturgical Press, Collegevlle, MN. (Originally written in the 1180’s according to some sources.) Google Books:
St. Wulfstan Millenium (on line). “The St. Wulfstan Story.”
Walsh, Michael, ed. BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS Concise Edition Revised & Updated. 1991: HarperCollins, New York, NY.


Lauren Gilbert, author of Heyerwood: A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband. She will be attending the Amelia Island Book Festival 2/21/2015-look for her there!


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