SEVERAL dioceses in England celebrate on this day the feast of St Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester. The last of the Anglo-Saxon saints, Wulstan was worthy to close the long line of men and women who had earned for the country the proud title of 'Insula Sanctorum.' His character as sketched by a contemporary is singularly attractive. A simple man, strong in his simplicity, yet kindly and gifted with a merry wit, he held straight on his course in God's service a priest, monk, prior, and bishop, spending himself in the laborious offices of his ministry, much more intent on the burdens of his position than on its emoluments. A love of beauty ran through his life and manifested itself in building fine churches, in his care of books, in his love for the freshness of children.
In his long life of eighty-seven years Wulstan saw the gradual passing of the old order, the reigns of Ethelbert, Canute, Edward the Confessor, and of his friend King Harold, down to the fateful day when power passed into Norman hands. With all his love for his own land and dynasty the Saint gave no time to useless regrets. He had warned the people that for their sins the country would fall under the dominion of strangers, and when the conquest became a fact he threw his great influence into support of the new dynasty. But he was no time-server, and had no hesitation in confronting the Conqueror to demand redress of injustice done to his See. King William learned to admire the sturdy Saxon prelate, and Wulstan, instead of sharing the fate of nearly all the native bishops who were removed and replaced by Normans, remained in his See and was made the King’s lieutenant for the Midlands.
The following are the lessons of Saint Wulstan.
Wolstanus presbyter magnani sibi sanctitatis famam acquisiverat. Postea monachus Wigorniensis factus, ad ejusdem Ecclesiæ regimen brevi assumptus est. Scienti sacularis pene rudi, spirituali disciplina totum se dedit. Sermonis Anglicani inter eloquentissimos habebatur; quo in genere est illud maxime memorandum, quod cives Bristolienses, quos a nefario mancipiorum indigenarum mercatu, nec regia, nec pontificia potestas deterrere potuerat, ipse assiduis prædicationibus ad saniorem mentem reduxerit.
Episcopus factus omnes boni pastoris partes sedulo egit. Continuo diœcesim suam lustrare cœpit, ordinationes facere, ecclesias dedicare, peccantes arguere animassibi commissas et verbo et exemplo ad æternævitæ desiderium excitare. Sæpius evenit ut ab ortu solii ad tenebras pueros undecumque advectos ad duorum vel trium millium numerum sacro chrismate jejunus signaret. In confessionibus excipiendis ea erat mansuetudine, eo animarum zelo, ut ad Wolstanum et tota Anglia conflueretur, ejusque monitis peccatores scelera sua dignis pœnitentiæ operibus emendarent.
Neque vero, dum alienæ saluti invigilaret, negligebat suam. Frequenti Missarum celebratione, oratione assidua, jugi ab esu carnium abstinentia, et effusa in egenoscaritate Deo serviebat. Quanto autem de se demissius sentiret, eo magis ab omnibus virtutes ejus prædicabantur: ut non solum Angli et Normanni, sed exterarum quoque gentium reges et præsules ejus se orationibus commendarent. Senex admodum mortuus est anno ab Incarnatione Domini millesimo nonagesimo quinto et in ecclesia sua Wigomiæ sepultus.
Wulstan whilst a simple priest had acquired to himself a great renown for holiness. Afterwards having become a monk of Worcester Priory, he was in a short time raised to the government of the same church. Almost entirely ignorant of secular learning, he gave himself wholly to spiritual science. He was numbered among the most eloquent speakers of the English language, in proof of which, this is principally to be remembered, that by his assiduous preaching he converted the citizens of Bristol, whom neither the regal nor the pontifical power could withdraw from the infamous slave trade.
Being made bishop, he sedulously fulfilled all the duties of a good shepherd. He began to visit all parts of his diocese, to give ordinations, to dedicate churches, to reprove sinners, and to animate the souls committed to his care, both by word and example, to the desire of eternal life. It frequently happened that he fasted from sunrise till nightfall whilst he was occupied in confirming children to the number of two or three thousand who were brought from all parts. Such was his meekness and zeal for souls in hearing confessions that persons came to him from all parts of England, and by his admonitions sinners amended their crimes by worthy deeds of penance.
Neither did he whilst watching over the salvation of others neglect his own. He served God by the constant celebration of Mass, by assiduous prayer, by continued abstinence from flesh-meat and by overflowing charity to the needy. The more humbly he esteemed himself, by so much the more his virtues were proclaimed by all, so that not only the English and Normans, but the kings and rulers of foreign nations also commended themselves to his prayers. He died, a very old man, in the year from the Incarnation of our Lord one thousand and ninety-five, and was buried in his church of Worcester.