Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester, Confessor

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He was a native of Icentum, in Warwickshire. In his youth, perceiving himself somewhat touched with wanton love on seeing a woman dance, he withdrew into a thicket hard by, and lying prostrate, bewailed his fault before God, with very great contrition. And he was endowed from that time by Almighty God, with the gift of such a constant watchfulness over his senses, as prevented his being evermore annoyed with the like temptations. He laid the foundation of his studies and education in the monastery of Evesham, but completed the same at Peterborough. His parents having by mutual consent taken the monastic habit at Worcester; his father, Athelstan, in the great monastery of men; and his mother, Wulfgeva, in a nunnery; Saint Wulstan put himself under the direction of Brithege, bishop of Worcester, by whom he was advanced to the holy orders of priesthood. In this station he redoubled his ardour for prayer, and practised greater austerities in the world, than monks in their convents. At first, he allowed himself the use of flesh; but being one day distracted in saying mass, by the smell of meat that was roasting in the kitchen, he bound himself by vow, never more to eat any flesh. Not long after he entered himself a novice in the great abbey at Worcester, where he was remarkable for the innocence and sanctity of his life. The first charge with which he was entrusted in the monastery, was the care of instructing the children. He was afterwards made precentor, and then treasurer of the church. In these two last stations, he devoted himself totally to prayer, and watched whole nights in the church. As the meanest employments were always the object of his love and choice, it was contrary to his inclination that he was made prior of Worcester, and, in 1062, bishop of that see, when Aldred was translated to that of York. Though not very learned, he delivered the word of God with so much dignity and unction, as often to move his whole audience to tears. He always recited the Psalter whilst he travelled, and never passed by any church or chapel without going in, to pour forth his soul before the altar with tears which seemed to stand always ready in his eyes for prayer. When the conqueror had deprived the English, both nobility and clergy, of the posts of honour they possessed in the church and state, in favour of his Normans, on whose fidelity he could depend, Wulstan kept his see, though not without a miracle, as Saint Aelred, Florentius, and Capgrave relate, as follows: In a synod, held at Westminster, in which archbishop Lanfranc presided, Wulstan was called upon to give up his crosier and ring, upon pretext of his simplicity and unfitness for business. The saint confessed himself unfit for the charge, but said, that King Edward, with the concurrence of the apostolic see, had compelled him to take it upon him, and that he would deliver his crosier to him. Then going to the king’s monument, he fixed his crosier in the stone; then went and sat down among the monks. No one was able to draw out the crosier till the saint was ordered to take it again, and it followed his hand with ease. From this time the conqueror treated him with honour. Lanfranc even commissioned him to perform the visitation of the diocese of Chester for himself. When any English complained of the oppression of the Normans, he used to tell them, “This is a scourge of God for your sins, which you must bear with patience.” The saint caused young gentlemen who were brought up under his care, to carry in the dishes and wait on the poor at table, to teach them the practice of humiliation, in which he set the most edifying example. He showed the most tender charity for penitents, and often wept over them, whilst they confessed their sins to him. He died in 1095, having sat thirty-two years, and lived about eighty-seven. He was canonized in 1203.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 18 January 2013. Web. 22 September 2014. <>