APOSTLE OF ORDER
By Geoffrey Humphrys
THE anniversary of St. Dunstan occurs on Monday, May 19. The name of this saint is familiar to everybody in Britain, for it is perpetuated by the noble institution which does such excellent Christian work for the blind.
It is fitting that this should be so, as, during his lifetime, the saint did much to establish England as a truly Christian country and instil orderliness where chaos and lawlessness had prevailed.
Dunstan was born near Glastonbury about A.D. 910. lie was of noble descent, and grew up weak in bodily health but possessed of great mental powers. He attempted almost every branch of learning. achieving distinction in the study of the Holy Scriptures. writing and illuminating religious books.
At this time Glastonbury was steeped in sacredness. The background had its effect on the young man, but his thirst for knowledge led to a brain fever.
THROUGH his family connec
tions Dunstan was introduced to the court of King Athelstan, where he soon became a great favourite, particularly with the ladies who consulted him concerning embroidery patterns. This popularity also led to many enemies.
Rumours were spread that he practised heathen charms and magic. He made no attempt to deny them. On one occasion, he was in a bower of Lady Ethelwyne tracing some embroidery when a
tune was heard to come from a harp leaning against the wall, with no hand near it.
The lady and her maidens rushed out declaring that Dunstan was wiser than he ought to be. As a result, he was put through a cold water immersion ritual reserved for witches and wizards. then banished from court.
To heal his injured pride. be went to stay with his uncle, El
phegc the Bald. then Bishop of Winchester. Dunstan had already received the tonsure, and his uncle, aware of his genius and talents, tried to interest him in a monastic life. He did not respond at first, but changed his mind after recovering from a skin trouble he believed to be leprosy.
HE returned to Glastonbury as " an enthusiastic monk, for whatever he attempted he did it wholeheartedly. He built a cell adjoining the old church, then devoted himself to prayer, study and manual labour—making bells, vessels for churches, and copying and illuminating books. It is said that he was continually tempted to desert the rigorous form of life he had chosen, but with characteristic mental strength be resisted all the exhortations of Satan. Soon after Edmund became king he narrowly escaped death while hunting at Cheddar. As a result, he recalled Dunstan to court and in 943 appointed him Abbot of the royal monastery at Glastonbury. This began the revival of monastic life in England and has been called the turning point of our religious history.
The new Abbot devoted hirriselt to reconstructing monastic buildings and restoring the church of St. Peter. He also raised the Glastonbury monastery to the rank of the first great public school in England during the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period. Other monasteries were revived from Glastonbury, and similar work was carried on by St. Ethelwold from Abingdon and St. Oswald from Westbury.
When King Edmund was murdered he was succeeded by his brother Edred. Dunstan remained his chief adviser.
School of virtue
UNDER Edred. Dunstan's influence at court was increased. He was a personal friend of the king as well as a minister. During a long illness the king suffered. Dunstan was his constant companion, nand through prayer and example managed to convert the palace into a school of virtue.
With the succession of Edwy. Dunstan's fortunes changed. On his coronation day the 16-year-old monarch rose from the table to seek the company of a girl named Elgiva. This caused great offence to the assembled nobles and Dunstan was called upon to express his disapproval.
The young sovereign resented it and, with the support of the Abbot's enemies, had him disgraced and sent into exile in Flanders. Here Dunstan made his first contact with Continental monasticism, which was then in the fullness of renewed vigour. The Benedictine perfection so greatly impressed him that it remained his inspiration for the rest of his life.
HE was soon to return to Eng land, for a rebellion led to Edwy being replaced as king be his brother Edgar. Dunstan was made. Bishop of Winchester, and afterwards London, as well as retaining the abbey of Glastonbury. He later became Archbishop of Canterbury.
In this capacity he was an ecclesiastical statesman. Though the king reigned, it was Dunstan who ruled. Clerical and monastic discipline was reformed by him. He encouraged the king to make royal progresses through the land. brought him and his people together. and facilitated the administration of justice.
During Dunstan's administration, Northumbria was divided into earldoms instead of kingdoms. the Danes were subdued and conciliated, an efficient navy built and maintained. pirates restrained and punished, family feuds suppressed. standard measures made and deposited at Winchester and home trade encouraged.
\v HEN he went to Rome to receive the pallium, Dunstan was apointed a legate of the Holy See by Pope John XII. With this authority he set about re-establishing ecclesiastical discipline in England.
In this he was protected by King Edgar, and assisted by St. Ethelwold and St. Oswald. Between them the three prelates restored most of the great monasteries destroyed during the Danish incursions and founded new ones.
Through the 16 years of Edgar's reign. Dunstan remained his chief adviser. He also continued as ecclesiastical prime minister during the short reign of Edward the Martyr. But the death of the young prince was a great shock to him and, when he crowned Ethelred in 970. he foretold the calamities which were to mark his reign.
Dunstan now devoted more of his time to Canterbury. He had always been a patron of education. and in his old age loved to teach scholars attached to the cathedral and tell them stories.
On the feast day of the Ascension, 988, the archbishop celebrated Mass, and on each of the three times he preached to his people he mentioned his impending death. In the afternoon he went again to the cathedral and chase a place for his burial. Two days later he died peacefully.