1095 Death of a saintly bishop
The Norman Conquest of England which began in 1066 was supported by the papacy partly out of a desire to reform the English Church which was seen as backward and corrupt by the reform movement in Rome. All of the Anglo-Saxon bishops except one were replaced by continental clerics such as Lanfranc, the new Italian Archbishop of Canterbury. The single bishop left in place was Wulstan, aka Wulfstan, (1008-95) of Worcester. Robert Chambers explains why:
St. Wulstan was the last saint of the Anglo-Saxon Church, the link between the old English Church and hierarchy and the Norman. He was a monk, indeed, and an ascetic; still, his vocation lay not in the school or cloister, but among the people of the market-place and the village, and he rather dwelt on the great broad truths of the Gospel than followed them into their results. Though a thane’s son, a series of unexpected circumstances brought him into the religious profession, and he became prior of a monastery at Worcester. Born at Long Itchington, in Warwickshire, and educated at the monasteries of Evesham and Peterborough, the latter one of the richest houses and the most famous schools in England, he was thoughtful above his years, and voluntarily submitted to exercises and self-denials from which other children were excused. To Wulstan, the holy monk, the proud Earl Harold once went thirty miles out of his way, to make his confession to him, and beg his prayers. He was a man of kind yet blunt and homely speech, and delighted in his devotional duties; the common people looked upon him as their friend, and he used. to sit at the church door listening to complaints, redressing wrongs, helping those who were in trouble, and giving advice, spiritual and temporal.
Every Sunday and great festival he preached to the people: his words seemed to be the voice of thunder, and he drew together vast crowds, wherever he had to dedicate a church. As an example of his practical preaching, it is related that, in reproving the greediness which was a common fault of that day, Wulstan confessed that a savory roast goose which was preparing for his dinner, had once so taken up his thoughts, that he could not attend to the service he was performing, but that he had punished himself for it, and given up the use of meat in consequence.
At length, in 1062, two Roman cardinals came to Worcester, with Aldred the late bishop, now Archbishop of York; they spent the whole Lent at the Cathedral monastery, where Wulstan was prior, and they were so impressed with his austere and hardworking way of life, that partly by their recommendation, as well as the popular voice at Worcester, Wulstan was elected to the vacant bishopric. He heard of this with sorrow and vexation, declaring that he would rather lose his head than be made a bishop; but he yielded to the stern rebuke of an aged hermit, and received the pastoral staff from the hands of Edward the Confessor. The Normans, when they came, thought him, like his church, old-fashioned and homely; but they admired his unworldly and active life, which was not that of study and thoughtful retirement, but of ministering to the common people, supplying the deficiencies of the parochial clergy, and preaching. He rode on horse-back, with his retinue of clerks and monks, through his diocese, repeating the Psalter, the Litanies, and the office for the dead; his chamberlain always had a purse ready, and ‘no one ever begged of Wulstan in vain.’ In these progresses he came into personal contact with all his flock, high and low—with the rude crowds, beggars and serfs, craftsmen and labourers, as well as with priests and nobles. But everything gave way to his confirming children — from sunrise to sunset he would go without tasting food, blessing batch after hatch of the little ones.
Wulstan was a great church builder: he took care that on each of his own manors there should be a church, and he urged other lords to follow his example. He rebuilt the cathedral of his see, and restored the old ruined church of Westbury. When his new cathedral was ready for use, the old one built by St. Oswald was to be demolished; Wulstan stood in the churchyard looking on sadly and silently, but at last burst into tears at this destruction, as he said, of the work of saints, who knew not how to build fine churches, but knew how to sacrifice themselves to God, whatever roof might be over them.
It cannot be said of Wulstan that he was much of a respecter of persons. He had rebuked and warned the headstrong Harold, and he was not less bold before his more imperious successor. At a council in Winchester, he bluntly called upon William to restore to the see some lands which he had seized. He had to fight a stouter battle with Lanfranc, who, ambitious of deposing him for incapacity and ignorance, in a synod held before the king, called upon the bishop to deliver up his pastoral staff and ring; when, according to the legend, Wulstan drove the staff into the stone of the tomb of the Confessor, where it remained fast imbedded, notwithstanding the efforts of the Bishop of Rochester, Lanfranc, and the king himself, to remove it, which, however, Wulstan easily did, and thenceforth was reconciled to Lanfranc; and they subsequently cooperated in destroying a slave trade which had long been carried on by merchants of Bristol with Ireland.
Wulstan outlived William and Lanfranc. He passed his last Lent with more than usual solemnity, on his last Maundy washing the feet and clothes of the poor, bestowing alms and ministering the cup of ‘charity;’ then supplying them, as they sat at his table, with shoes and victuals; and finally reconciling penitents, and washing the feet of his brethren of the convent. On Easter-day, he again feasted with the poor.
At Whitsuntide following, being taken ill, he prepared for death, but he lingered till the first day of the new year, when he finally took to his bed. He was laid so as to have a view of the altar of a chapel, and thus he followed the psalms which were sung. On the 19th of January 1095, at midnight, he died in the eighty-seventh year of his age, and the thirty-third of his episcopate. Contrary to the usual custom, the body was laid out, arranged in the episcopal vestments and crosier, before the high altar, that the people of Worcester might look once more on their good bishop. His stone coffin is, to this day, shewn in the presbytery of the cathedral, the crypt and early Norman portions of which are the work of Wnlstan.
If your interest in Wulstan has not been exhausted, I direct you to the splendid A Clerk of Oxford site where you will find more on the saint: https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2015/01/st-wulfstan-of-worcester-sole-survivor.html