Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Winoc, Abbot

Article

Among the Britons, who, flying from the swords of the English Saxons, took refuge in the maritime province of Armorica, in Gaul, several turned their afflictions into their greatest spiritual advantage, and from them learned to despise transitory things, and to seek with their whole hearts those which are eternal. Hence Armorica, called from them Brittany, was for some ages a country particularly fruitful in saints. Conan founded this principality of Lesser Britain in 383. His grandson and successor, Solomon I, was murdered by his own subjects, provoked by his zeal to reform their morals, in 434. Some think this prince, rather than the third of that name, to be the Solomon whose name has been inserted in some Armorican calendars. Gratton, the third prince, founded the abbey of Landevenec. Budic, the seventh of these princes, was defeated by the Franks, and seems to have been slain by King Clovis about the year 509. His son Riowald or Hoel I gathered an army of Britons dispersed in the islands about Great Britain, and returning in 513, recovered the principality in the reign of Childebert, and is called by many the first duke of Brittany. Saint Winoc was of blood royal, descending from Riowald, and kinsman to Saint Judoc. The example and instructions of holy tutors made a deep impression upon his tender soul: he learned very early to be thoroughly sensible of the dangers, instability, and emptiness of all worldly enjoyments, and understood what great watchfulness and diligence are required for a Christian to stand his ground, and daily to advance in virtue. The most excellent precepts which a person has received from his masters in a spiritual life, become useless to him, if he ever think himself sufficiently instructed, and cease to preach these important lessons over and over again to himself, and to improve daily in spiritual knowledge and sentiments by pious attention and assiduous earnest meditation.

Winoc was careful by this method to nourish the good seed which had been sown in his soul. In company with three virtuous young noblemen of his country he made several journeys of devotion, in one of which he visited the new monastery of Sithiu or Saint Peter’s, now Saint Bertin’s, at Saint Omer; and was so edified with the fervour and discipline of the monks, and the wisdom and sanctity of the holy abbot Saint Bertin, that he and his three companions all agreed to take the habit together. This they did, not in 660, as Mabillon conjectured, but later than the year 670, perhaps nearer 690. Saint Winoc’s three companions were, Quedenoc, Ingenoc, and Madoc. The edifying lives of these servants of God spread an odour of sanctity through the whole country: and the chronicle of Saint Bertin’s testifies that Saint Winoc shone like a morning star among the hundred and fifty fervent monks who inhabited that sanctuary of piety.

It was judged proper to found a new monastery in a remoter part of the vast diocess of Terouenne, which might be a seminary of religion for the instruction and example of the inhabitants of that part of the country. For the Morini who composed that diocess, comprised, besides Artois and part of Picardy, a considerable part of what was soon after called Flanders. Heremar, a pious nobleman, who had lately embraced the faith, bestowed on Saint Bertin the estate of Wormhoult, very convenient for that purpose, six leagues from Sithiu. Saint Bertin sent thither his four illustrious British monks to found a new monastery, not in the year 660, as Mabillon imagined, but some years later; Stiltin says, in his life of Saint Bertin, in 690. Mabillon tells us, from the traditionary report of the monks, that Saint Winoc first led a solitary life at Groenberg, where the monastery now stands: but no mention is made of this in his life. Having built their monastery at Wormhoult, Quedenoc, Ingenoc, and Madoc, who were elder in years, successively governed this little colony. After their demise Saint Winoc was appointed abbot by Saint Bertin. He and his brethren worked themselves in building their church and cells together, with an hospital for poor sick; for nothing in their whole lives was more agreeable to them than to labour for the service of God, and that of the poor.

Saint Winoc saw his community in a short time very numerous, and conducted them in the practices of admirable humility, penance, devotion, and charity. The reputation of his sanctity was enhanced by many miracles which he wrought. Such was his readiness to serve all his brethren, that he seemed every one’s servant; and appeared the superior chiefly by being the first and most fervent in every religious duty. It was his greatest pleasure to wait on the sick in the hospital. Even in his decrepit old age he ground the corn for the use of the poor and his community, turning the wheel with his own hand without any assistance. When others were astonished he should have strength enough to ply constantly such hard labour, they looked through a chink into the room, and saw the wheel turning without being touched, which they ascribed to a miracle. At work he never ceased praying with his lips, or at least in his heart; and only interrupted his manual labour to attend the altar or choir, or for some other devotions or monastic duties. His ardent sighs to be dissolved and to be with Christ were accomplished by a happy death, which put him in possession of his desired bliss on the 6th of November, before the middle of the eighth century. For fear of the Danish plunderers, who, in the following century, made a descent upon the coast of Flanders, his bones were carried to Sithiu. Baldwin the Bald, count of Flanders, having built and fortified the town of Berg, in 920, that it might be a strong barrier to his dominions; Count Baldwin IV. or the Bearded, in 1028, built and founded there a stately abbey in honour of Saint Martin and Saint Winoc, which he peopled with a colony from Saint Bertin’s, and he enriched it with the relics of Saint Winoc; and the lands or estates of the monastery of Wormhoult, which were not far distant, were settled by the founder upon this house, and the town bears the name of Berg-St.-Winoc.

Dom de Cousser, actual prior of Saint Winoc’s, in his manuscript annals of his monastery, endeavours to prove that a succession of monks had continued to inhabit a cell at Wormhoult, from the destruction of that abbey to its restoration in the city of Berg. The walls of the fortress did not take in the abbey till, in 1420, the abbot Moer raised a wall round the hill. The abbey of Berg was burnt with the town, by the French in 1383, when twelve candlesticks of massy gold, of an incredible weight and size, and other immense riches, were consumed in the church, and with them many shrines and relics of saints, particularly of Saint Oswald the English king and martyr, and his cousin the holy virgin Saint Hisberga, whom Molanus by mistake confounds with the Flandrican Saint Isberge. Nothing of these relics escaped the flames, except a small parcel of little bones of Saint Oswald kept separate. They are still exposed in that church in a reliquary made in the figure of an arm. The relics of Saint Winoc were not damaged. They are now preserved in a triple shrine raised over the high altar, and the head in a large silver bust apart. See the life of Saint Winoc, with a relation of many miracles after his death, written probably in the ninth century before the devastation of the Normans in 880, MSS. in the Library of Berg-St.-Winoc, published by Surius, and more correctly by Mabillon. Also see the Chronology of Saint Winoc’s, nearly of the same age. Thirdly, Drogo or Dreuoc, a monk of Saint Winoc’s in the middle of the eleventh century, in his history of the miracles of Saint Winoc, to many of which he had heen an eye-witness. He prefixed a life of Saint Winoc, in Mabillon. He likewise composed a life of Saint Lewina, an English virgin, in Mabillon, ib. and the Bollandists, 24 Julii, and of Saint Oswald, king and martyr, in Surius, 5 August. Some make this writer the same who was bishop of Terouenne from 1031 to 1078, and who wrote the life of Saint Godeleva, virgin. But the monk expressly mentions this bishop his namesake and contemporary. See also on Saint Winoc, Thomas the Deacon, a monk of Berg, who wrote in the fourteenth century, was eye-witness to the plunder and burning of the abbey and city by the French in 1383; a most faithful and accurate historian.

Saint Winoc’s history is abridged by Anian de Coussere, monk of Berg, and abbot of Saint Peter’s of Aldenberg, who wrote a chronicle from the birth of Christ, and the translation of Saint Arnulph, abbot of Aldenberg, and died in 1468.

Likewise by Peter of Wallen Capelle, prior of Berg, abbot of Broin at Namur, from 1585 to 1592, whilst his brother Francis, a Franciscan, was bishop of that city. Peter returned to Berg, and there died. He is author of two excellent treatises on the monastic state, the one called Illustrationes, the other Institutiones Monasticæ, to which the learned Vanespen was much indebted in what he wrote on this subject.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Winoc, Abbot”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 5 November 2013. Web. 22 August 2014. <>