Catholic Encyclopedia – Saint Botulph

Article

(or Botolph) Abbot, date of birth unknown; died c.680. Saint Botulph, the saint whose name is perpetuated in that of the American city of Boston, Massachusetts, was certainly an historical personage, though the story of his life is very confused and unsatisfactory. What information we possess about him is mainly derived from a short biography by Folcard, monk of Saint Bertin and Abbot of Thorney, who wrote in the eleventh century. According to him Botulph was born of noble Saxon parents who were Christians, and was sent with his brother Adulph to the Continent for the purpose of study. Adulph remained abroad, where he is stated to have become Bishop of Utrecht, though his name does not occur in any of the ancient lists. Botulph, returning to England, found favour with a certain Ethelmund, “King of the southern Angles”, whose sisters he had known in Germany, and was by him permitted to choose a tract of desolate land upon which to build a monastery. This place, surrounded by water and called Icanhoe (Ox-island), is commonly identified with the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, mainly on account of its name (Boston=Botulph’s town). There is, however, something to suggest that the true spot may be the village of Iken in Suffolk which of old was almost encircled by the little river Alde, and in which the church is also dedicated to Saint Botulph. In favour of Lincolnshire must be reckoned the fact that Saint Botulph was much honoured in the North and in Scotland. Thus his feast was entered in the York calendar but not in that of Sarum. Moreover, even Folcard speaks of the Scots as Botulph’s neighbours (vicini). In favour of Suffolk, on the other hand, may be quoted the tradition that Saint Botulph, who is also called “bishop”, was first buried at Grundisburgh, a village near Woodbridge, and afterwards translated to Bury Saint Edmunds. This, however, may be another person, since he is always closely associated with a certain Saint Jurmin. That Botulph really did build a monastery at Icanhoe is attested by an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 654: Botulf ongan thæt mynster timbrian æt Yceanho, i.e. Botulph began to build the minster at Icanhoe. That the saint must have lived somewhere in the Eastern counties is proved by the indisputable evidence of the “Historia Abbatum”, where we learn that Ceolfrid, Bede’s beloved master at Wearmouth, “journied to the East Angles in order that he might see the foundation of Abbot Botulphus, whom fame had proclaimed far and wide to be a man of remarkable life and learning, full of the grace of the Holy Spirit”, and the account goes on to say that Ceolfrid “having been abundantly instructed, so far as was possible in a short time, returned home so well equipped that no one could be found more learned than he either in ecclesiastical or monastic traditions”. Folcard represents Saint Botulph as living and dying at Icanhoe in spite of the molestations of the evil spirits to which he was exposed at his first coming. Later accounts, e.g. the lessons of the Schleswig Breviary, suppose him to have changed his habitation more than once and to have built at one time a monastery upon the bank of the Thames in honour of Saint Martin. His relics are said after the incursions of the Danes to have been recovered and divided by Saint Aethelwold between Ely, Thorney Abbey, and King Edgar’s private chapel. What is more certain is that Saint Botulph was honoured by many dedications of churches, over fifty in all, especially in East Anglia and in the North. His name is perpetuated not only by the little town of Boston in Lincolnshire with its American homonym, but also by Bossal in Yorkshire, Botesdale in Suffolk, Botolph Bridge in Huntingdonshire, and Botolph in Sussex. In England his feast was kept on 17 June, in Scotland on 25 June.

MLA Citation

  • Herbert Thurston. “Saint Botulph”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 15 June 2013. Web. 21 December 2014. <>