Thursday, May 19, 2016

Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury

Saint Dunstan of Canterbury,  (born 924, near Glastonbury, Eng.—died May 19, 988, Canterbury; feast day May 19), English abbot, celebrated archbishop of Canterbury, and a chief adviser to the kings of Wessex, is best known for the major monastic reforms that he effected.
Of noble birth, Dunstan was educated by Irish monks and visitors at Glastonbury. Later he entered first the household of his uncle, Archbishop Aethelhelm of Canterbury, and then the court of Athelstan, King of the English. Maliciously accused of practicing the black arts, he took refuge with his kinsman Aelfheah (Elphege), bishop of Winchester, who influenced him to become a monk and later ordained him.
Dunstan then lived as a hermit at Glastonbury, where he learned various crafts and music until Athelstan’s successor, Edmund I, recalled Dunstan as one of his counsellors. About 943 AD Edmund made him abbot of Glastonbury, and under Dunstan the abbey became a famous school. Under Edmund’s successor, Eadred, Dunstan became the chief minister of state, in which capacity he sought to establish royal authority, to conciliate the Danish section of the kingdom, to eradicate heathenism, and to reform clergy and laity.


On the accession in 955 AD of King Eadwig (Edwy), however, Dunstan’s influence and office were temporarily eclipsed. He apparently quarrelled with Eadwig and was outlawed, being driven to Flanders. At the abbey of Blandinium he studied continental monasticism, which he used as a chief source in restructuring English monasticism when recalled by King Edgar in 957 AD. In the same year, Edgar made him bishop of Worcester and London. In 959 AD Eadwig died, Edgar became sole king of the English, and Dunstan was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. During this period intellectual activity flourished, and Dunstan personally reformed and re-established several celebrated monasteries and sponsored missionaries to Scandinavia.
On Edgar’s death, in 975 AD, Dunstan secured the crown for Edgar’s elder son, later known as St. Edward the Martyr. When Edward was murdered (978) and was succeeded by Ethelred (Aethelred) II, Dunstan’s public career abated, and he retired to Canterbury, where he taught at the cathedral school.
He was the most popular saint in England for nearly two centuries, having gained fame for the many stories of his greatness, not least among which were those concerning his famed cunning in defeating the Devil.
English literature contains many references to him, for example in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and in this folk rhyme:
St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull'd the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.
Another story relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil's horse. This caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door. This is claimed as the origin of the lucky horseshoe.[1]

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