Medieval Painted and Stained Glass at Worcester Cathedral Priory, Part II:
The Priory Cloisters
Introduction by Anna Eavis (Editor of Vidimus)
Welcome to the second instalment of our two-part feature on the medieval glazing of Worcester Cathedral and Priory. This month’s article focuses on the glazing of the priory cloisters and a remarkable sequence of now lost windows depicting incidents from the life and miracles of St Wulfstan, the last Anglo-Saxon bishop in England.
The Worcester Priory Cloisters
In 1634, a visitor to Worcester Cathedral mentioned a ‘rich glaz’d cloyster’. (Further Reading: Legg) Although none of this glass now survives, an important inventory of what could be seen a few years later, before the cathedral was ransacked during the English Civil War, was compiled by the seventeenth-century antiquarian Thomas Abingdon (Abington/Habington, 1560–1647). (Further Reading: Abingdon) This included descriptions of arms and inscriptions in the ‘top lights’ of the cloister, and a group of Latin inscriptions relating to St Wulfstan. These scraps of evidence, especially if the Wulfstan inscriptions are original to glazing scheme here, are extremely important in piecing together the subjects depicted in the cloister glass and add immeasurably to our (far too slight) knowledge of cloister glazing schemes in pre-Reformation monasteries.
The priory cloisters adjoin the south side of the cathedral and consist of four walks of unequal length. Rebuilding in stone of the original structure, which was possibly of wood, began towards the end of the fourteenth century, with the east walk begun in the 1380s and the north walk completed at some point in the 1420s. (Further Reading: Engel) New tracery was installed in the window openings, without glazing, in 1762–9, and this in turn was replaced in 1866 with the present scheme, apparently adopted from some old remains. [Fig. 1]
The North Walk
The north walk ran alongside the church; in many monasteries this alley was reserved for reading and writing. Abingdon saw several inscriptions in the windows of this walk referring to John Fordham, Prior 1423–1438, who may have presided over the completion of the cloister glazing. In the top lights of the fourth window his arms were accompanied by the following words.
Orate pro bono statu Magistri Johannis Fordham sacrae paginae professoris Prioris ecclesiae cathedralis Beatae Mariae Wigorniae, qui hanc fenestram fecerat vitriari
‘Pray for the good estate of Magister John Fordham, professor of scripture, Prior of the cathedral church of the Blessed Virgin at Worcester, who caused this window to be glazed.’
Further along the same side the top lights of the fifth and sixth windows referred to Thomas Collewell, a senior member of the priory in the fifteenth century, who is recorded as holding a number of offices, including those of custos capelle (chapel guardian, 1419); pitanciarius (pittancer, 1415 17); camerarius (treasurer, 1421 27); cellerarius (cellarer, 1429 36); coquinarius (cook, 1428 29); and elemosinarius (almoner, 1441–42).
In the fifth window an inscription ran as follows.
Ecclesiae Thomas Collewell tunc supprior huius qui dedit expensis istam reparare [sic, for reparari] fenestram. X L [sic, for C?] quater M semel septem semel anno
‘Thomas Colewell, then subprior of this church, who granted that this window be repaired at (his own) expense in the year 1417.’
The date is confusing as it stands, but if one reads ‘C’ for ‘L’, the result is ‘10 + (4 x 100) + 1000 +7’ – i.e., 1417.
The sixth window had the following:
Hasque duas cunctas Thomas Collewell fenestras fecit in exemplum claustralibus omnibus aptum quas binis annis complet cui [sit] vita perhennis
‘Thomas Colewell made both these windows as an appropriate example for all members of the monastic community, which he completed in two years. May he have eternal life.’
Frustratingly, Abingdon’s description of the seventh window was merely ‘nothinge but matter of devotion’, raising the intriguing possibility that it may have been a picture window.
The East Walk
The east walk was generally kept clear of furnishings, as it was often used for processions. The range included the entrance to the chapter house, the room where the monks met daily to discuss the administration of the priory.
The top lights of the windows in this alley also contained some important donor-related images. The first housed the royal arms of England, the arms of the priory, and the inscription ‘Johannes Dudley sub-Prior &[?] Magister Theologie’ (‘John Dudley, subprior and master of theology’). Another light bore the following inscription.
Orate pro anima Domini Johannis Phelippe, Baronis de Donynton, qui hanc fenestram fiery fecit
‘Pray for the soul of Lord John Phillip, Baron of Donington, who had this window made.’
The West Walk
This walk included the laver, where the monks washed, and the entrance to the dormitory (dorter). Once again, the windows included images related to patronage, with figures of various kings and bishops who had granted lands and privileges to the cathedral priory from Anglo-Saxon times onwards appearing in the glass. Professor Richard Marks has described this arrangement as ‘a monumental illustrated cartulary or book of benefactors’, honouring past patrons and reminding potential donors of the exalted company they would be keeping in the eyes of the monks as they proceeded around the cloister in prayer. He has also drawn parallels with illustrations of kings holding charters that appear in the early fifteenth-century Sherborne Missal. (Further Reading: Marks) At Worcester the figures included kings Edgar, Offa, Kenulph, Aldred, Ethelred, Sewald, Vtridus (Uhtred) and Berwulfus, and various bishops, including St Oswald (bishop 960–992), Aldred (bishop 1046–1062), St Wulfstan (bishop 1062–1095), and Simon (bishop 1125–1150). Latin inscriptions below the figures detailed their gifts to the church as the words under King Uhtred’s image testified.
Vtredus Rex dedit Shepeston et Stoke Prioris
‘King Uhtred gave Shipston-on-Stour and Stoke Prior.’
Uhtred was a chief of the Anglo-Saxon Hwicca tribal group, which covered Worcester and other parts of the West Midlands. He ruled concurrently with his two brothers and gave Stoke Prior to the church at Worcester in AD 770. Among the inscriptions associated with bishops, that in the sixth window records St Wulfstan as giving land at the Worcestershire village of Crowle.
There may have been a similar scheme at Peterborough Cathedral, where a seventeenth-century author described the cloister windows as ‘famed for their great art and pleasing variety’. One side showed Old Testament scenes, another scenes from the New Testament, a third the founders and benefactors of the church, and the fourth the kings of England. (Further Reading: Marks)
The South Walk
This walk included the entrance to the monks’ refectory (frator). [Figs 2 and 3]
Abingdon made two brief references to the glazing of this alley. The first read: ‘The Windows of the South Cloyster contain the History and Miracles of St Wulfstan’. The second contained an extra detail: ‘In the South Windows of the Cloysters were several Coats of Arms, and the following inscriptions, now destroyed’.
Before discussing these inscriptions further, it may be helpful to sketch the life of St Wulfstan, an important figure in the history both of the monastery and the English church. He was born c.1008 at Itchington (either Long or Bishop’s Itchington) in Warwickshire. His father seems to have been a member of the Bishop of Worcester’s household, as Wulfstan was educated at Evesham Abbey and thereafter at Peterborough Abbey. At some point in the 1030s, he was ordained as a priest at the Anglo-Saxon minster church of Hawkesbury (Gloucestershire), and he subsequently became a monk at the Benedictine priory founded by St Oswald alongside Worcester Cathedral. After steady promotions, he was appointed Prior c.1055 by Bishop Ealdred (c.1069). Five years later, he succeeded his patron as bishop, after Ealdred was promoted to the see of York and barred by the pope from holding both positions simultaneously. During the first phase of Wulfstan’s bishopric, he became close to Harold Godwinson (c.1020–1066), the future King Harold II, and probably attended the Christmas court of 1065, where he would have witnessed the death of Edward the Confessor and Harold’s coronation. Following the triumph of the invading Norman army at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066, Wulfstan joined other leading members of the English ruling elite in formally surrendering to William ‘the Conqueror’. It is likely that he subsequently attended the coronation of William at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. [Figs 4 and 5]
Wulfstan was one of only three English-born bishops to retain his episcopal office after these traumatic events, and he subsequently urged peace and reconciliation between the Saxons and their conquerors. He also proved his loyalty to William I and William II by assisting in the suppression of two revolts staged by disaffected Norman barons in 1074–75 and 1088. In 1084, Wulfstan began the rebuilding of Worcester Cathedral to replace St Oswald’s tenth-century church, which had been sacked by a Danish army in 1041. In 1089, the monks entered the new choir, and the eastern end of the church seems to have been completed before 1092. The crypt of this church still survives. Wulfstan died at Worcester on 20 January 1095 and was buried there on the 21 or 23 January. He was the last Anglo-Saxon bishop in England. [Fig. 6]
The St Wulfstan Glass
The remainder of this article reproduces and translates the Abingdon inscriptions. It shows that there was once a glazing scheme consisting of scenes from St Wulfstan’s early life up to and including his appointment as Bishop of Worcester (window 1); a famous, if fanciful, story of a clash between Wulfstan and William the Conqueror and events during his bishopric (window 2); the story of his death and funeral (window 3); and a succession of stories illustrating posthumous miracles at his tomb (windows 4, 5 and 6). If original to this walk of the cloister (see below), the scheme may have been intended to complement a sequence of ceiling bosses in the same alley, one section of which depicted a spiritual genealogy of Worcester culminating in an image of St Wulfstan. (Further Reading: Cave)
Although the glazing imagery itself can never be recovered, a sense of what the scenes may have shown can be retrieved by comparing the inscriptions recorded by Abingdon with those found in other sources. These include an Anglo-Saxon Vita or Life of St Wulfstan, written shortly after his death, which was subsequently abridged and translated from Old English into Latin around 1226–28; an account, known as the Miracula, written c.1235 concerning various miracles said to have occurred at the saint’s tomb after his death; a Vita of St Edward the Confessor written by the Prior of Westminster Abbey in the 1130s, and, finally, thirty-two lines on the life and miracles of St Wulfstan that have survived as part of an appendix to a manuscript written during the lifetime of Bishop Walter de Cantilupe (1236–66), now in the collection of the National Library of Wales (Peniarth MS 382 (Hengwrt 362)).
The importance of the latter source cannot be understated, as the inscriptions in the Peniarth manuscript are almost identical to those recorded by Abingdon in the cloister windows. It has been suggested that the lines of verse in the Peniarth manuscript recorded tituli attached to a series of contemporary thirteenth-century wall paintings or stained-glass windows associated with St Wulfstan’s shrine in the cathedral, or that they may have been composed with such a series in mind. (Further Reading: Flower, Engel) This possibility cannot be ruled out, even though there is currently no firm evidence to support the suggestion. If such a scheme were installed there, the arrangement may have been similar to that at Canterbury Cathedral, where the setting of St Thomas Becket’s shrine was enriched with stained-glass windows depicting the saint’s life and miracles. Other comparable series include a scheme of wall paintings at Chichester Cathedral depicting ‘good and lasting pictures of the life of St Richard (of Chichester)’ commissioned c.1373 for the chapel where his head was kept in a silver reliquary, and a thirteenth-century window complementing the shrine of St Ecgwine at Evesham Abbey, about sixteen miles from Worcester. (Further Reading: Jones, Crook) [Fig. 7]
Since it seems unlikely that there was a scheme both in the cathedral (recorded in the Peniarth manuscript) and a second one with an almost identical selection of tituli in the cloister (as evidenced by Abingdon), it is possible that the remains of a scheme in glass were moved from the cathedral to the cloister at some point between the 1420s and 1634, perhaps after the Dissolution; the uneven spread of inscriptions across the windows may support this. It could also be suggested that the Peniarth and Abingdon relate to a scheme original to the cloister, rather than the cathedral, that was reused during the rebuilding programmes of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries (that is, if the original cloister was in stone). For the moment all we can say is that Peniarth and Abingdon ultimately derive from the same source (that is, that the latter is not derived directly from the former), and that Abingdon relates to a scheme that once existed. Whether Peniarth records another scheme (in windows or on walls), or even the intention for such a scheme, it is remarkable that the same source is re-used, in almost identical manner, after a lapse of nearly two centuries.
Some additional light on these possibilities may be gleaned from a closer look at the two texts, as although the inscriptions in the Peniarth manuscript are almost identical to those recorded by Abingdon in the cloister windows, a few differences may be important. Most of these can be attributed to scribal error in the manuscript or oversight on the part of Abingdon. More telling, perhaps, is that a few lines found in one source are not found in the other, and vice versa, and there are some differences in wording. While the closeness of the two sources to each other shows that they must ultimately derive from the same source – we know that such a source was otherwise in circulation, because one line (relating to the man who was castrated and blinded) is cited in the Annals of Worcester for 1212 – the differences between them may be instructive. One interesting difference is the replacement of sic (‘thus’) in the Peniarth manuscript with hic (‘here’) in Abingdon. The change may indicate how the original text, if designed to be associated with a series of images, was in fact altered to be more specific when it came to be used in practice; narrative windows elsewhere contain scenes described in Latin by tituli (labels) introduced by the word hic. The word hic does however also feature in the Peniarth lines, so it is possible that sic is simply a scribal error.
Of particular interest are two lines found in the Peniarth manuscript, at the end of the scenes from Wulfstan’s life.
Cum domini dono tibi me committo patrono,
Presul, sacrista te re venerantur in ista.
The first of these lines is also found in Abingdon, in the third window, at the end of the scenes from Wulfstan’s life. The absence from Abingdon of the second line may or may not be significant. While the lines may describe one or more donor images, their meaning is not entirely clear. If they were intended to be understood separately, then they would mean ‘With this gift of the lord(?) I commit myself to you my patron’ and ‘The bishop (and) the sacristan venerate you in this thing [image?]’, although the scansion of the Latin in the latter would be incorrect and the language somewhat odd. The two lines taken together could be construed in various ways, none of them entirely satisfactory.
The following reconstruction of the St Wulfstan scheme reproduces the Abingdon and the Peniarth manuscript inscriptions, together with brief summaries of the stories they tell. The scheme as described by Abingdon includes all the scenes from the life of St Wulfstan found in the Peniarth manuscript; the selection of miracles following Wulfstan’s death, however, is not the same, and occurs in a different order. Since the number of inscriptions varies from light to light, it is not clear how many scenes or miracles there were in each opening; perhaps the glass had been rearranged by the time he recorded the inscriptions.
Inscriptions in the First Window
This window showed scenes from Wulfstan’s early life from his adolescence up to his appointment as bishop. Abingdon reproduced nine inscriptions that could be seen in this window and here as elsewhere, they are reproduced in the order he listed them. No inscriptions relating to possible donors were recorded, nor are any coats of arms described. Nothing is said explicitly about the tracery lights, and no information survives about the axis or arrangement of the scheme.
Abingdon: Wulstano tristi frustra librum rapuisti
Peniarth MS.382: Vulstano tristi frustra librum rapuisti
‘In vain have you seized the book from sad Wulfstan.’
According to the Vita (I, 1), when Wulfstan was a pupil at Peterborough Abbey, his master, a monk named Earnwig or Earwine (possibly Abbot of Peterborough 1042–52) lent him two books, a sacramentary (the words spoken by a priest officiating at the mass) and a psalter (a book of psalms) with the capitals decorated with gold. Wulfstan adored both books, dwelling on the beauty of the letters and ‘drinking deep the content of the words’. But Earnwig, ‘looking to worldly advantage’ reclaimed the books and gave them to King Cnut and his wife, Queen Emma. The boy was ‘heartbroken at the news’ and ‘sighed many a deep sigh’. But ‘grief brought on sleep’, and while Wulfstan slept a man ‘of angelic countenance stood over him and drove away his sadness, promising restitution of the books’. This would come to pass, as were eventually recovered by Bishop Ealdred, who in turn presented them to Wulfstan, ‘considering that they belonged to him alone because of the merit of his life’ (Vita, I, 10). The story extols Wulfstan’s youthful holiness, his love of learning, and his trustworthiness with precious objects, and highlights that he was motivated by spiritual desires, not material wants, and that even as an adolescent he was singled out for visions. [Fig. 8]
Abingdon: Lusibus admota puero parit hec nova vota
Peniarth MS.382: Lusibus admota puero parit hec pia vota
It is not entirely clear what this is intended to mean, but it could perhaps be translated ‘It produces for the boy new [Abingdon] / pious [Peniarth] prayers inspired by the games.’
The Vita (I, 1) describes the teenage Wulfstan playing an unspecified game with other boys, which involved racing about on the ‘verdant sward’. By common consent, Wulfstan ‘took first prize in the contest’. When ‘a crowd of rustics’ repeatedly shouted his praises, he gave them no encouragement and would not allow ‘windy flattery to let the bubbles of vainglory form in his heart’. Full of self-reproach after he had almost fallen for the charms of an attractive girl in the wake of his victory, he fell asleep. When he did so, a bright light came out of the clouds which ‘breathed an air of seriousness over the sportive minds of the young people’. When they asked Wulfstan what had happened, he ‘held nothing back’ about his being ‘pricked by lust’, and assured them that through God’s mercy he would ‘have no further trouble on that score’.
Abingdon (incomplete): Hic inter vepres fugit …
Peniarth MS.382: Sic inter vepres fugit affatus muliebres [sic, for muliebris]
‘Here [Abingdon] / Thus [Peniarth] he flees the advances of the woman among thorns.’
This window would have shown Wulfstan’s encounter with a girl who ‘was designed by nature for shipwrecking chastity and luring men into pleasure’, and who almost seduced him after his triumph on the games field. Prompted by the Devil she ‘employed indecent gestures and movements’. Indeed Wulfstan became so aroused by her charms that he almost succumbed, until ‘he came to his right mind’ and ‘bolted to a spot bristling with thorns and brambles’ to disrupt such thoughts (Vita, I, 1). A similar story to Wulfstan’s ‘bolt into the brambles’ can be found Pope Gregory I’s sixth-century Dialogues (Life of St Benedict), where he says that when the founder of the Benedictine monastic rule was overcome with carnal desire for a woman he threw himself into a thicket full of nettles and briars. He cast off his clothes and ‘rolled himself so long, that, when he rose up, all his body was pitifully rent; thus by the wounds of his flesh he cured those of his soul, by turning pleasure into pain; and by the vehemence of outward torments he extinguished the unlawful flame which burnt within overcoming sin by changing the fire.’ Denial was an important feature of Wulfstan’s holiness. Another famous story told about the saint was that he gave up eating meat after he had been distracted from his religious duties by the smell of a roasting goose.
Images intended to be views in public or in private might have resonated differently with their intended audiences. For pilgrim audiences in the cathedral they would have been exemplified Wulfstan’s purity and holy life; within the priory cloisters, they might have been used to stress the need for young monks to uphold their vows of chastity and desexualize their lives.
Abingdon: Mundicie testem monachalem suscipe vestem
Peniarth MS. 382: Mundicie testem monachalem suscipe vestem
‘Take his monk’s habit as witness of his purity.’
After his parents became a monk and nun respectively, Wulfstan became a priest at Hawkesbury in Gloucestershire. (Further Reading: Hare) Later he asked Bishop Brihtheah (1033–38) if he could become a monk and join the priory at Worcester, which he did. The scene may have shown him talking to the bishop or becoming a monk (Vita, I, 3).
Abingdon (incomplete): … gatur multi duce turpia fatur
Peniarth MS. 382: Sic castigator mulier dum turpia fatur
Abingdon appears to be corrupt. Peniarth translates as follows: ‘Thus the woman is chastised when she says shameful things.’
After Wulfstan had become Prior of the abbey, a further assault on his chastity was launched. This time the culprit was a wealthy married woman who had set her eyes on him. According to the Vita, when he ‘chanced to stand next to her in church she polluted his habit with a shameless touch’ (Vita, I, 6). After Wulfstan had shown his disapproval by glaring at her, she appealed to him ‘not to ignore her words’. Assuming that she wanted to confess her brazenness, he drew her aside whereupon she ‘whispered in the holy man’s ear seductive words imbued with … a viper’s wiles’. Despite his position, she promised him money to spend on the poor if he would join her in bed. Admitting that what she proposed could be seen as a sin, she argued that it could not be a great sin to embrace a woman and even if it were quite a big one she could more than make up it by giving generous alms to the poor. Finally Wulfstan could stand her ‘gabbling’ no longer. Crossing himself he told her: ‘Away with you, and take with you the hatred you deserve, you tinder of wantonness, daughter of death and vessel of Satan.’ He then slapped her with such force that ‘the smack of his palm could be heard right through the door of the church’. The story was the talk of the city for days as people gossiped about this second Joseph – a reference to the Old Testament story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis XLIX, 6–20) – who had ‘rejected a woman’s lewdness and quelled it with his hand’.
Abingdon: Attritis costis me cum pede perfodit hostis
Peniarth MS. 382: Attritis costis mihi cum pede profugit [sic] hostis
Abingdon offers better sense here: ‘My ribs broken, the enemy pierced me with his foot.’
The Vita (I, 4) tells how Wulfstan used to visit various churches in his diocese at night to pray. One night a yokel appeared and challenged him to a fight, ‘with appalling grimaces and a roaring voice’. But Wulfstan, not suspecting that the intruder was the Devil in disguise, continued praying until the mysterious stranger suddenly attacked him, wrapping ‘his sinewy arms’ around the frail bishop. Despite ‘a body wasted away with fasting’, Wulfstan fought back bravely. ‘The wrestling bout lasted no small stretch of the night’ until finally ‘the ghostly figure’ of the Devil conceded defeat and vanished into thin air ‘polluting the neighbourhood with an acrid smell’. Not to completely undone, as he disappeared he trampled on Wulftsan’s foot with ‘all the force of wickedness’ and ‘pierced it as it through with a red-hot iron’ leaving a permanent wound or ulcer.
Abingdon (incomplete): Culmine de vasto ruo surg … pentibus … sto
Peniarth MS. 382: Culmine de vasto ruo, surgo, stupentibus asto
‘I fall from a great height, I get up, (and) stand among the astonished.’
According to the Vita (I, 8 ) Wulfstan designed a belfry for the church and provided step ladders for the workmen to use as they built ‘ladder after ladder … almost reaching to the sky’. One workman who had climbed higher than anyone else suddenly fell from a great height and as the man ‘was tumbling down’ Wulfstan saw what was happening and made the sign of the cross. Instead of dying or suffering serious injuries when he hit the ground, the man rose unhurt, blaming his own foolishness and blessing Wulfstan’s holiness.
Abingdon: Hic est collatus Wulfstano pontificatus
Peniarth MS. 382: Sic est collatus Wulfstano pontificatus
‘Here [Abingdon] / Thus [Peniarth] Wulfstan is collated to the bishopric.’
In 1062, Bishop Ealdred was appointed Archbishop of York. When he went to Rome to collect his pallium (vestment of office), the Pope over ruled his wish to hold both sees and insisted that he give up Worcester if he wished to be confirmed in his new post at York. Eventually Ealdred agreed and returned to England accompanied by some papal legates who would help him to choose ‘a worthy successor’. During their time in England, the legates met and admired Wulfstan and when a meeting was convened with the king in London to discuss Ealdred’s successor at Worcester, they brought up Wulfstan’s name; the choice was supported by the archbishops of Canterbury and York and Earl Harold (the future king of England). The alternative candidate was the Abbot of Evesham abbey, but King Edward preferred Wulfstan and invested him as the new bishop (Vita, I, 10).
Abingdon: Hic consecratur presul pastorque creatur
Peniarth MS. 382: Hic consecratur presul pastorque creatur
‘Here he is consecrated as bishop and made pastor.’
Wulfstan was consecrated as Bishop of Worcester at York by Archbishop Ealdred on 8 September 1062.
Inscriptions in the Second Window
This window showed scenes of Wulfstan’s life as Bishop of Worcester, including a legendary clash with King William I (‘the Conqueror’).
Abingdon: Rex baculum sancti reddi jubet ore minanti
Peniarth MS. 382: Rex baculum sancti reddi jubet ore minanti
‘The king orders the saint’s staff to be returned with threatening speech.’
This scene begins a three-panel account of the Miracle of the Crozier, a story often associated with Wulfstan yet which never appeared in any of the early literature about his life. It was in fact drawn from the Vita Beati Edwardi Regis Anglorum (Life of Edward the Confessor) written c.1138 by Osbert de Clare, Prior of Westminster Abbey, and was initially intended to show Edward, not Wulfstan, in a flattering light.
The story was subsequently reweighted when Wulfstan’s role was appropriated by John I during his bitter dispute with Pope Innocent III over which of the two men had the right to appoint bishops in the English church. According to the Vita, (I, 12, 1) St Wulfstan had been invested as bishop by King Edward the Confessor personally, a significant point for John. Osbert’s Vita of the Confessor added an extra detail: that after the Norman conquest, Wulfstan had been ordered to surrender his symbols of office to Archbishop Lanfranc, William’s Italian place-man at Canterbury, at a special meeting of the royal council chaired by the Conqueror at Westminster Abbey. Although acquiescing with the demand in principle, Wulfstan refused to give his staff to Lanfranc directly, choosing instead to make a defiant gesture by thrusting the staff of his crozier into the nearby marble tomb of Edward the Confessor, the king from whom he had received his appointment. The moment he did so the metal spike of the staff went into the stone of the tomb as if though it were wax. When the Norman appointee, Bishop Gundulf of Rochester, tried to retrieve the crozier, and was unable to do so, Wulfstan was acknowledged as the rightful bishop by the king and allowed to remain in office. [Fig. 9]
Abingdon: Est mihi pro nulla toga presulis apta cuculla
Peniarth MS. 382: Est mihi pro nulla toga presulis apta cuculla
‘I have an appropriate bishop’s garment instead of a monk’s habit.’
This describes another scene from the same story. When Wulfstan was summoned to his audience with William, he was rebuked for his shabby appearance. The king asked which fool consecrated him and made him bishop, accusing him of being coarse in appearance and speech; and declaring that he should not be wearing sheepskin but purple. The bishop responded to the charges by associating sheepskin with the lamb of God. There is a similar story about Wulfstan’s modest dress sense in the Vita (III, 1), where he is said to have avoided ostentation and wore only lamb skins. When Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances (d.1093), asked him why he did not wear sable or beaver fur, Wulfstan replied that only men versed in worldly prudence used the fur of cunning beasts. Pressed again why he only wore lamb skin rather than cat fur, Wulfstan made Geoffrey laugh with his jest that ‘We sing the Lamb of God oftener than the Cat of God’.
Abingdon: Ecce recens signum rapitur de marmore lignum
Peniarth MS. 382: Ecce recens signum rapitur de marmore lignum
‘Behold the wood is taken from the marble, a new sign.’
This scene would have probably shown Wulftsan retrieving his staff from the Confessor’s marble tomb.
Abingdon: Ecce virens plante [sic] patris crescit prece sanctam
Peniarth MS. 382: Ecce virens planta patria arescit prese [sic] sanctam
The reading crescit (‘grows’) in Abingdon must be incorrect, as it defeats the purpose of the story. Peniarth translates as follows: ‘Behold a green plant withers by the prayer of the holy father’.
This is a story from the Vita (II, 17) about a man called Ailsi, who asked the bishop to consecrate a church at Longley-on-Severn, a village about ten miles south-west of Worcester. When he arrived for the ceremony, Wulfstan ordered that a nearby nut tree be cut down as the spread of its branches darkened the church, but Ailsi refused to do so, vowing that he would rather save the tree than have the church consecrated, as he enjoyed sitting under its shade in the summer, dicing and drinking. Wulftsan then ‘hurled his curse at the tree’, which was immediately stricken and gradually withered, until Ailsi finally had it cut down telling Wulfstan’s biographer Coleman ‘that nothing could be found more bitter than Wulfstan’s curse: nothing sweeter than Wulfstan’s blessing’.
Abingdon: De loculis plenis hic quod fundatur egenis
Peniarth MS. 382: De loculis plenis datur hic quod fundat egenis
‘The poor are given what they lack in full measure.’
This story (Vita, III, 14) recalls a miracle that occurred during the last Maundy Thursday alms-giving ceremony before Wulfstan’s death, when huge numbers of poor people came to the cathedral seeking alms and were given clothes, boots, money and food in addition to having their feet washed by the monks. Eventually, a monk whispered to Wulfstan that they were running out of provisions to give away. Wulfstan responded ‘The Lord’s will be done’, whereupon three messengers arrived bringing gifts of money, a horse, and some cattle. The horse and cattle were sold and the money used to provide to alms for the poor.
Inscriptions in the Third Window
The death and funeral of St Wulfstan.
Abingdon: Annulus a digito mihi non rapietur abito
Peniarth MS. 382: Anulus a digito mihi non rapietur abito
‘The ring will not be taken from my finger: be off.’
This story about the bishop’s death is told in the Vita (III, 22). As Wulfstan had grown older and his ‘skin seemed scarcely to cling to bone’, his great ring of office sometimes slipped off from his finger. After his death, some of the monks tried to draw the ring from his finger, either as a keepsake or to test an assurance that he had given them that he would take it to his grave. Though they kept twisting it one way and the other, ‘all their arts were foiled by the knotted joints and the firmness of skin and sinew’.
Abingdon: Mox ait orate quid dormitis vigilate
Peniarth MS. 382: Mox ait: “Orate, quid dormitis, vigilate”
‘Soon he says: “Pray! Why are you sleeping? Be vigilant!”’
This depicts an incident after Wulfstan’s death as told in the Vita (III, 23) when the monks were maintaining a twenty-four vigil over Wulfstan’s body in preparation for his funeral. When some of the watchers crept into corners to sleep, the spectre of Wulfstan ‘was instantly at their side, nudging the snorers and rousing the drowsy’ urging them to ‘bid farewell to sleepiness’ and to start work on his funeral preparations.
The third and fourth inscriptions in Abingdon for this window should be read together. They are not included in the Peniarth manuscript.
Abingdon: Antistes sanctus Hertforde vir venerandus / Audiit hec dici sepelito [sic, for sepelite] funus amici
Understanding sepelito as sepelite, this translates: ‘The holy Bishop of Hereford, a venerable man, heard these things being said: ‘Bury the body of your friend.’
At exactly the time Wulfstan died, his friend, Robert, Bishop of Hereford, had a vision of Wulfstan – not as he had seen him in recent years, but as a brightly shining figure with a glowing pink face, wearing his episcopal robes and holding his staff. Robert was at the court of the king at the time. Wulfstan asked Robert to bury him, but Robert asks why, when he has not seen him looking so well in ages. ‘It is the will of God.’ Robert wakes up, gains permission from the king to bury Wulfstan, and rushes to Worcester.
Abingdon (incomplete): A grege plorantur pastor Wulstannus … ma ...
Peniarth MS. 382: A grege ploratur pastor Wulstannus, humatur
‘Pastor Wulfstan is mourned by his flock (and) buried.’
The Vita (III, 24) describes people wailing and groaning at the funeral. ‘The crowds shouted words of grief that the vaulted roof of the church re-echoed and redoubled.’
Abingdon: Cum domini dono tibi me committo patrono
Peniarth MS. 382: Cum domini dono tibi me committo patrono
These lines are discussed above.
Inscriptions in the Fourth Window
The next three windows depicted incidents from the Miracula, a collection of stories chronicling posthumous miracles recorded at the tomb of St Wulfstan. This was probably a two sided-structure between the choir and the north aisle opposite the effigy of King John. Supplicants would have visited the shrine from the north aisle side. Most seem to have come mainly from surrounding counties, Wales and Ireland. [Fig 10 & 11]
Abingdon: Verba loquor recta datur hic mihi lingua refecta
Peniarth MS. 382: Verba loquor recta datur hic mihi lingua refecta
‘I (can) speak properly. Here a renewed tongue is given to me.’
This miracle refers to the healing of an Irishman named Pippard, whose tongue had been cut out by Hugh de Laci, Earl of Ulster from 1205 until his expulsion from Ireland in 1210. The Annals of Worcester record that Pippard built a church in Ireland in honour of St Wulfstan and gave it to the church of Worcester together, with 30 carucates of land (a carucate being the amount of land that could be tilled by a team of eight oxen in a ploughing season).
Abingdon: Tota stupet fisi [sic] quod curatur paradise [sic]
Peniarth MS. 382: Tota stupet fisys quod curatur paralisis
Peniarth translates as follows: ‘Nature is completely dumbfounded because paralysis is cured.’
The Miracula lists several cures of paralytics. Unfortunately the inscription by itself is too general to identify any particular miracle. Examples include the case of a man from Hereford who had been paralyzed for three and a half years. According to the Miracula he was brought to Worcester and stretchered into the cathedral. After the porters had carried carry him to the tomb he was cured, ‘as if touched by a blessing hand’.
The cure of a paralytic was one of the miracles that led Bishop Mauger (Bishop of Worcester 1199–1212) to press for Wulfstan’s canonization in 1201. (Further Reading: Engel, Flower)
Abingdon: Quod datur in pane vixi [sic] totum fit inane
Peniarth MS. 382: Quod datur in pane totum virus fit inane
Peniarth translates as follows: ‘All the poison that is given in bread becomes harmless.’
This story concerns the curing of a boy poisoned by his stepmother. The father was extremely grieved and mourned loudly with his friends; the son died towards the end of the day. A passing beggar came into the house, attracted by the noise, and said that they should dedicate a coin to St Wulfstan and hang it around the boy’s neck as a token of a votive offering that would be made. When they did this, the boy, who had been lying on his back, turned onto his side and vomited out a large quantity of black poison. He opened his eyes and asked that a priest be brought so he could make his confession. On the third day, he was well enough to get up, so he went to Worcester to make his offering in person, praising God for his mercy.
The practice of ‘vowing’ pennies or candles to St Wulfstan was very common. One of the stories recounted in the Miracula describes the curing of a horse that had been bitten by a snake, after its owner had made the sign of the cross on its head with a penny vowed to St Wulfstan.
Abingdon: Lepra fugit tota squamosa pelle remota
Peniarth MS. 382: Lepra fugit tota squamosa pelle remota
‘The leper flees, his scabby skin completely removed.’
This story refers to a leper who disgusted everyone, including his own kind (and he was wealthy and noble). He gave off a foul stench, there were pustules on his face, and his breath was contagious. He came to the tomb, went without food and drink for three days, and on the fourth day cried ‘Someone touched me!’ It was seen that he had been touched by water from the tomb. He stood up as it in ecstasy. The pallor disappeared, the tumours vanished, and the scabs fell off at the touch of a hand.
The curing of a leper was also described in the Vita (II, 7), when a man from Kent suffering from ‘the king’s evil’ (leprosy or scrofula) was cured at Kempsey after bathing in water which Wulfstan had used to wash his ‘holy hands’ after mass.
Abingdon: Mens datur amenti discretio recta furenti
Peniarth MS. 382: Mens datur amenti discrecio recta loquenti
‘Sanity is given to the insane, and correct judgement to the mad [Abingdon] / to (the) one who speaks [Peniarth].’
Again, it is not possible to say with certainty which Miracula story was depicted here. One possible miracle is the case of a woman possessed by an evil spirit who was brought to the tomb, tearing her clothes and spouting nonsense. Although the custodians of the shrine were able to restrain her body by putting her into chains and subduing her with whips, they could not calm her mind. At first her screeching and blasphemy was so terrible that some witnesses even thought her condition was worsening, but after intensive prayers at the tomb the evil spirit finally left her and she was cured.
Another story concerned a charitable woman who fell very sick after a blood-letting. Among the consequences was that she threw her food aside, tore off her clothes, and shouted in the open street, attracting attention to herself. When she was taken forcibly to the tomb of St Wulfstan, she refused to ascend the steps. She was therefore taken to the altar in the crypt, and a votive penny for St Wulfstan hung around her neck. After waking from sleep, she was cured, whereupon she took herself willingly to the tomb and prayed.
Inscriptions in the Fifth Window
This window also depicted stories from the Miracula.
Abingdon (incomplete): … Quod morsus dat tibi diros
Peniarth MS.382: Triste fugit virus quod morsus dat tibi durus [sic, for duros?]
The harsh poison that gave terrible [Abingdon] / harsh [Peniarth] pains flees.’
The servant of a priest who did not believe in the miracles performed by St Wulfstan went into a field to collect crops and was bitten by a spider on the neck. The priest came running, told the servant to chew some rue with water (presumably to mix the two together and put the mixture on the bite). This did not work, so the priest was persuaded to tie a coin around the sick man’s neck as an indication that he would make an offering to Wulfstan. But the priest, fearing the man might die on the journey, delayed, and the poison went to the servant’s chest and then into his whole body, and all his skin became separated from his flesh. He was taken to the church and was at death’s door. He repeated St Wulfstan’s name and prayed with tears. Someone came running with the water of St Wulfstan, gave the man some of it to drink, and washed his neck, chest, arms and body. He was carried outside the church and in the same hour vomited up whatever was eating him inside and whatever had got under his skin. The swelling subsided and his skin returned to its normal position.
Abingdon: Ecce viam tutus a vinclis pergo solutus
Peniarth MS. 382: Ecce viam tutus a vinclis pergo solutus
‘Behold I go my way safely, freed from chains.’
There was a private war between the castles of Abergavenny and Grosmont. A pilgrim from Abergavenny was captured by border guards from Grosmont, who threatened to cut off his head when he claimed to be on a pilgrimage to St Wulfstan. As some of the attackers also loved St Wulfstan, they decided to imprison him in the castle instead. After he had been manacled, the pilgrim begged St Wulfstan for a swift end to his torment. As he slept, a man appeared to him, urging him to follow where he lead. The pilgrim managed to free himself from the shackle and chains and escaped. As he climbed over the wall, a sleeping guard woke up crying ‘Who goes there?’, only to instantly fall asleep again. Placing his trust in God and Wulfstan, the pilgrim then jumped from the ramparts and landed unharmed. He then went to a church where he deposited the chains that remained around his body.
Abingdon: Cuncta potest qui te reddet paralytice rite
Peniarth MS. 382: Cuncta potest qui te reddit, paralitice, vite
‘He who restores you rightly [Abingdon] / to life [Peniarth], paralyzed man, is able to do everything.’
As with the previous reference to the cure of a paralytic, it is not clear to which miracle this inscription may refer. One possibility is the case of a priest from Melksham (Wiltshire), half of whose body became paralyzed while celebrating mass on a Sunday. He then spent three years dragging himself round England, living off the prayers of the saints. When he came to Worcester and prayed, he gradually felt his body coming back to full life.
Abingdon (incomplete): Serr … natus fit vir vid … oculatus
Peniarth MS. 382: Sexu privatus fit vir, videt exoculatus
‘He who was deprived of his genitals becomes a man; he who lost his eyes sees.’
This is one of St Wulfstan’s most famous miracles and concerns the healing of Thomas of Elderfield, who was blinded and castrated after losing a judicial duel (trial by battle) at Worcester in 1221. Proven ‘guilty’ by his defeat, the presiding royal justices then authorized the victor’s neighbours and kinsmen to execute the sentence. After digging out Thomas’ eyes, they ‘then tore out his testicles from the scrotum and threw them … away so that some young men kicked them to and fro to each other among the girls’. Left half-dead, Thomas was taken to a hospital in the city, where a woman called Isabel defied the hospital master and cared for the blinded man. In his agonies Thomas prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary, and on the eighth day he had a vision of her and St Wulsftan. When he awoke his eye sockets itched. After the bandages were removed he found he could see – new eyes were growing from tiny pupils in the bottom of the eye sockets, ‘like two small plums’ – although they were of a different colour to those he had lost. His genitals had also been restored.
Similar healing miracles were attributed to other saints and depicted in window cycles. The healing of Ailward or Eilward of Westoning, who was unjustly blinded and castrated after being convicted of theft, is shown in the St Thomas Becket windows at Canterbury Cathedral. (Further Reading: Caviness) The St William window in York Minster depicts the story of Ralph, who was blinded and horribly castrated in a duel with someone called Besing, only to recover his sight and gain a new pair of testicles after praying at the saint’s tomb. Like Thomas of Elderfield, Ralph’s new eyes were of a different colour to those that had been gouged out. (Further Reading: Norton) [Figs 12 and 13]
Abingdon: Sancte pater petimus fer opem Wulstane, perimus
Peniarth MS. 382: Sancte pater petimus fer opem Wlstane, perimus
‘Holy father, we pray: bring help. Wulfstan, we are perishing!’
This probably refers to a story involving sailors making the perilous crossing from Bristol and Ireland. At first the weather was fair, but later a storm blew up which lasted all night, bringing the ship near an island (probably Lundy) off the coast of north Devon, near the mouth of the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, which was the lair of a notorious pirate, William de Mareis (Marisco). They did not know whether to risk the pirate or the storm. On balance they decided to risk landing on the island, but a strong wind forced them back. The storm then tossed them about for the rest of that day too, and as night approached they put down two anchors. A further storm ripped the boat from the anchors, so the sailors lowered the sail and were tossed about all night. The next day the winds blew them towards the port in the evening, but at the last moment a strong blast hit the prow and drove the boat back onto the high sea. The whole of that night and the next day are spent in wailing and weeping. Towards evening they again find themselves coming towards the island. Yet again they are driven away, but now the breezes are gentler, and they are able to sail through the night towards Ilfracombe. They had already been without rest for five days. The weather seemed to turn for the better, so they set off – but a storm arose, the like of which they had not seen yet. Some invoked St Nicholas, some St Thomas, each to his own. One of the sailors had been to Worcester shortly before and told the others of how God’s glory had been manifested through St Wulfstan. Taking a penny he clutched it in his fingers and committed himself and the penny to Wulfstan. The others all did the same. The storm promptly subsided, as if cold water had been poured on a boiling pot. It then rained, and the rain quenched their thirst. They finally made it to Barnstaple, and vowed to visit the tomb of Wulfstan. News of the miracle soon spread. The text of the miracle ends with a prayer modelled on contemporary prayers addressed to ‘pater et pastor Wulstane’ (‘father and pastor Wulfstan’), naming Wulfstan directly after God and the Virgin Mary.
Inscriptions in the Sixth Window
Further miracles at the tomb.
Abingdon: Vis erit a tumba quo surgit mersus in unda
Peniarth MS. 382: Vis pluit a tumba qua surgit mersus in unda
The meaning is not entirely clear, perhaps ‘There will be power [Abingdon] / Power rains [Peniarth] from the tomb by which the drowned boy rises up.’
There are two miracles concerning drowned children. The first is the eighth miracle listed in the Miracula; the second appears in the prologue to the second book.
The first describes how a woman came to Worcester to pray, leaving her one-year-old child at home. The wetnurse she employed put him in a bath and then went out to collect wood to heat the water. On her return she found the child submerged in the water, face down, feet up. Horrified at the sight she ran out of the house screaming, and asking the neighbours what should be done. They are not sure what to do, and in the meantime she ran away. The child was then revived by a priest, who brought water in an ampoule from the shrine of St Wulfstan and poured it into the child’s mouth.
The second story involved a woman from Wich [Wick], known for her fecundity and the number of her children. Her youngest, a boy of two, fell into a well that was full of water when he went out to play with siblings in an orchard. When the other children returned home without him, the mother went looking for him. As she passed the well, she saw the edge of her son’s garment floating on the surface; the water was still as her son was dead. She dragged the body out, but his limbs were stiff and his skin was purple. She took the child in her arms and brings him home. The villagers assemble and the parish priest suggests that they pray to St Wulfstan. The boy’s lips begin to move, he throws up the water he had swallowed, and is gradually able to move his limbs having warmed them by the fire. Five weeks later, the mother takes the boy to the tomb of St Wulfstan, in the company of various clerics, who make a formal declaration that events took place as set out.
Abingdon: Tumba viri celebris signis viget inclita crebris
Peniarth MS. 382: inscription not listed
‘The celebrated tomb of the famous man thrives with frequent signs.’
It is impossible to identify this scene. It may have shown St Wulfstan’s tomb surrounded by wax votive offerings. The St William window in York Minster and a fourteenth-century wall painting at Bradwell Abbey (Buckinghamshire) show pilgrims offering wax replicas of afflicted (cured) limbs or people. One of the panels in the St William window shows the offerings hanging from string. Perhaps this panel depicted similar imagery. [Figs 14 and 15]
Abingdon: Hic claudis mutis cecis erit unda salutis
Peniarth MS. 382: inscription not listed
‘Here there will be the water of salvation for the lame, the mute and the blind.’
This may be a reference to the ‘water of St Wulfstan’, which was used to cure illnesses and diseases. At York Minster the St William window depicts pilgrims collecting miraculous ‘healing oil’ from the shrine; perhaps the Worcester window showed a similar scene, but with water rather than oil.
Abingdon (incomplete): … tes … ales hanc …
Peniarth MS. 382: inscription not listed
Abingdon: Celitus emissum … amis sum
Peniarth MS. 382: not listed
The two surviving words mean ‘Sent from heaven …’. It is not possible at the current time to complete the inscription or to suggest what the window might have depicted.
Cloister glazing schemes were important components of monastic life, as they were seen regularly by the monks during their daily processions and other activities. Unfortunately, accounts of what these schemes portrayed are extremely rare. Scenes of St Cuthbert’s life were depicted at Durham Cathedral Priory; donor imagery and Biblical scenes appeared at Peterborough Abbey; thirty-two windows with Old and New Testament scenes were commissioned between 1455 and 1464 at St Albans Abbey; and at Gloucester Abbey inscriptions recorded benefactors. (Further Reading: Marks) This expanded account of the Worcester glazing can now be added to that list.
Scenes from the life and miracles of a community’s patron saint are also known elsewhere in Europe. Examples include scenes from the life of St Norbert at Parc Abbey, near Leuven (Belgium), made between 1633 and 1644, and the cycles devoted to St Bernard at the Cistercian abbeys of Altenburg and Apern near Cologne (Germany). Panels from the latter cycles are now in the church of St Mary at Shrewsbury (Shropshire) and the church of St Leonard at Marston Bigot (Somerset) respectively. The cloisters of the charterhouse at Leuven included a cycle devoted to St Nicholas made c.1520–25 and donated by Nicolaas Ruterius, Bishop of Arras, whose coat of arms is displayed alongside.
For the church of St Mary, Shrewsbury, visit the CVMA (GB) Picture Archive.
For the Leuven charterhouse, visit the Victoria & Albert Museum website.
Special thanks are owed to Dr Joseph Spooner, without whose translations of the Latin inscriptions and summaries of the Miracula texts cited in this article nothing would have been possible. Thanks are also extended to Pedr ap Llwyd, Editor, The National Library of Wales; Dr Andy Halpin (National Museum of Ireland); Christopher Guy (Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist); David Morrison (Worcester Cathedral Librarian); Robin Whittaker (Archives Manager and Diocesan Archivist, Worcestershire Record Office).
R. R. Darlington (ed.), The Vita Wulfstani of William of Malmesbury, London, 1928
R. Flower, ‘A Metrical Life of St Wulfstan of Worcester’, National Library of Wales Journal, i/3, summer 1940, pp. 119–30 (now online here)
J. H. F. Peile, William of Malmesbury’s Life of Saint Wulfstan, Oxford, 1934 (English translation of Latin original: modern reprints are available)
M. Winterbottom and R. M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury: Saints’ Lives. Lives of Ss. Wulfstan, Dunstan, Patrick, Benignus and Indract, Oxford Medieval Texts, Oxford, 2002
Thomas Abingdon, The Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Worcester, London, 1717 and 1723
L. G. Wickham Legg (ed.), A relation of a short survey of 26 counties observed in a seven weeks journey begun on August 11, 1634 by a Captain, a Lieutenant and an Ancient, all three of the military company in Norwich, London, 1904
The Life of St Wulfstan
J. Barrow and N. Brooks (eds), St Wulfstan and his World, Aldershot, 2005
J. Crook, ‘The physical setting of the cult of St Wulfstan’, in J. Barrow and N. Brooks (eds), St Wulfstan and his World, Aldershot, 2005, pp. 189–217
P. Draper, ‘King John and St Wulfstan’, Journal of Medieval History, x/1, March 1984, pp. 41–50
M. Hare, ‘Wulfstan and the church of Hawkesbury’, in J. Barrow and N. Brooks (eds), St Wulfstan and his World, Aldershot, 2005, pp. 151–66
E. Mason, ‘St Wulfstan’s staff: a legend and its uses’, in Medium Ævum, liii, 1984, pp. 157–79
E. Mason, St Wulfstan of Worcester, c.1008–1095, Oxford, 1990