January 19: Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 1095

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About this Commemoration

Wulfstan was one of the few Anglo-Saxon bishops to retain his see after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Beloved by all classes of society for his humility, charity, and courage, he was born in Warwickshire about 1008, and educated in the Benedictine abbeys of Evesham and Peterborough. He spent most of his life in the cathedral monastery of Worcester as monk, prior, and then as bishop of the see from 1062 until his death on January 18, 1095.  He accepted the episcopate with extreme reluctance, but having resigned himself to it, he administered the diocese with great effectiveness. Since the see of Worcester was claimed by the province of York before its affiliation as a suffragan see of Canterbury in 1070, Wulfstan was consecrated at York. As bishop, he rapidly became famous for his continued monastic asceticism and personal sanctity.

Even though Wulfstan had been sympathetic to King Harold of Wessex, he was among those who submitted to William the Conqueror at Berkhamstead in 1066. He therefore was allowed to retain his see. At first, the Normans tended to disparage him for his lack of learning and his inability to speak French, but he became one of William’s most trusted advisers and administrators, and remained loyal in support of William I and William II in their work of reform and orderly government. He assisted in the compilation of the Domesday Book, and supported William I against the rebellious barons in 1075.  William came to respect a loyalty based on principle and not on self-seeking.  Archbishop Lanfranc also recognized the strength of  Wulfstan’s character, and the two men worked together to end the practice at Bristol of kidnaping Englishmen and selling them as slaves in Ireland.

Because he was the most respected prelate of the Anglo-Saxon Church, Wulfstan’s profession of canonical obedience to William the Conqueror’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, proved to be a key factor in the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Anglo-Norman Christianity. William’s policy, however, was to appoint his own fellow-Normans to the English episcopate, and by the time of William’s death, in 1087, Wulfstan was the only English-born bishop still living.


i Almighty God, whose only-begotten Son hath led captivity captive and given gifts to thy people: Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like thy holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of thy kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

ii Almighty God, your only-begotten Son led captivity captive and gave gifts to your people: Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like your holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Genesis 26:26–31

1 Corinthians 4:1–5

John 15:5–8, 14–16



Preface of  Baptism

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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13 thoughts on “January 19: Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 1095

  1. Readings: The new readings (Hebrew and New Testaments) seem to fit well.

    Bio. He lacks a ‘He died in 1095.’ statement.

  2. I question the relevance of Wulfstan to 21st Century Episcopalians.

    Presumably it was felt that an exception should be made to the new date-sharing rules, which is why this commemoration is not held on January 18. I don’t think that the present guidelines have been codified and explained by the SCLM, perhaps pending General Convention 2012.

    I find the journalistic word order of the second sentence most awkward: we are told about how much he was beloved before we are told of his birth.

    The subtitle should be more informative: I suggest “Monk, Reformer, and Bishop”.

    Line 7, first paragraph: add “at Worcester” after “death”.

    Line 3, second paragraph: correct the spelling to read “Berkhamsted”.

  3. Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 1095
    This commemoration, long included in LFF, is well presented, solid, and provides historical background I found helpful in understanding the circumstances of Wulfstan’s life. At the very beginning of the bio it instantly becomes clear he was an English bishop, but lacks a statement saying why he was important, plunging instead into his being retained after 1066. The second sentence places his virtues and universal acceptance just before facts about his birth. (That seems backwards.)
    The phrase “bishop of the see” caught my attention – I’m not sure why. Reduncancy, perhaps? (I’m used to seeing “see city” as a reference rather than “bishop of the see” – the latter reminds me of tuna.) On revisiting that sentence, however, the beginning (“he spent most of his life in the cathedral monastery”) understates the fact that monastery cathedral was the locus for his whole adult life and ministry, not just “most.” Would “His religious life was centered in the cathedral monastery…etc.” be a more natural way to say what that sentence is meant to convey? Two sentences later, it seems extraneous and unnecessary to explain about York, Canterbury and Worcester, in a sentence that seeks to tell us, mainly, that “He was consecrated at York.”
    No doubt, everybody knows the Domesday Book; (I’m still waiting for it to come out as a movie). A subordinate clause of explanation would be helpful for anyone who doesn’t. “Lanfranc” is mentioned but not identified in this same paragraph, then, a few sentences further, in the final paragraph, is both mentioned and identified. That seems backwards: identify him the first time. None of this, however, is meant to indicate anything less than my great appreciation for this informative commemoration.
    THE COLLECT: “Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like your holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage; and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of your kingdom….” My concern is with a baptismal view of the church, in which the church’s mission is commonly engaged by everyone, versus a view in which membership is, for the laity at least, pretty much a passive role with active roles allocated to the clergy. I can say and affirm all that is said here, but it is what is NOT said that concerns me. It’s entirely appropriate to ask God to multiply among us faithful pastors etc., and to ask God to bring us all into the true freedom of the kingdom. Is there any role for laity in the framing of this prayer? He was a monk; is there no role for those under vows in the framing of this prayer?
    I fear the “unspoken vacuum” in this prayer is its assumption that the life of the church depends on the clergy (pastors, bishops). The “all” in “bring us all” is asked, naturally, in a passive way. The question seems to be, what can we say that affirms ALL Christians as having a positive and active vocation in the life and mission of Christ’s work and Christ’s church?
    Even though it would lengthen the collect slightly, I would suggest something like: “Multiply among us the grace to carry your presence and love to all, wherever we have opportunity, in our ministries as bishops, laity, deacons, or priests, and so guide your Church that it may bring courage to those who are oppressed and to those held in bondage. In this life and eternally, bring us all, we pray, into the fullness of life, into the perfect freedom of your kingdom….”
    THE LESSONS: As concerns the Gospel, adding verses 9-13, (omitting 14-16) would affirm, in its way, not only that Wulfstan was in communion with Christ in his life and his work, but that Christ’s word to ALL is to love one another as Christ himself did. Removing “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” in order to skip directly to “You are my friends if you do what I command you” makes it sound as if passively following directions is IN ITSELF the Christian ideal, which falls back into an “active clergy, passive laity” model of the church. I would urge changing the Gospel selection to John 15:5-13 and omitting (or making optional) verses 14-16.
    5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
    6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
    7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
    9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
    10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
    11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
    12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
    13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
    14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
    15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
    16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
    THE OTHER LESSONS: The OT is actually a very good selection. I found it disorienting, on hearing the first line, before being able to put the whole picture together in my mind. I would probably instruct a reader to begin at verse 27 (instead of 26), exchanging “them” with “his enemies” – Isaac said to [his enemies]: “Why have you come to me…” etc.
    The Psalm, 146:4-9 (BCP), Is a summary vision (and praise) of God’s purpose for his creation, his people, a life of faithfulness to God, etc. As such it’s not only beautiful but powerful, revelatory and important.
    The Epistle is a peculiar selection, part self-commendation, part humble back-peddling, part spiritual advice, with a curious “caveat” in the last verse. The problem is, without some context, the citation itself gives no idea as to what it is St Paul is referring: (“Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.”) As true as this is as a global theological teaching, it doesn’t seem to be anchored in just these verses, so the hearer winds up feeling “up in the air.” I’d rather back up its starting point by three verses, to 3:21, ending with (or without) verse 5. (To me, 5, while it overlaps with the rest of the reading, introduces new subject matter which the reading doesn’t require, either in itself or in terms of the commemoration.)
    21 [So] Let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or
    Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all belong to
    you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
    4:1 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
    2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.
    3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I
    do not even judge myself.
    4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord
    who judges me.
    [5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.]

  4. I think many 21st century Episcopalians have heard of the Norman conquest, and just don’t know many of the details. I found it especially interesting to read about Wulfstan–had never before heard of him, but the fact that he “kept his See after the Norman conquest” and did so many good things stood out for me. So much conflict we’ve been talking about on this blog, saints on either side of so many historical challenges. I makes it seem more possible to work through some of the difficulties we face today. What history teaches is that we’re no better or worse as human beings than we were many centuries ago.

    • I would like to support Celilnda’s words, “So much conflict we’ve been talking about on this blog, saints on either side of so many historical challenges. I makes it seem more possible to work through some of the difficulties we face today.”
      I agree, and in fact felt a worthwhile part of the commemoration was to show an instance of transcending a conflict rather than assuming a preference for polemics as the only possibility. In Biblical studies, including some I have found extremely helpful and meaningful, the emphasis on sociological conflict between the Empire of Rome and the Kingdom of God could lead one to a premature, prima facie assumption that confrontation is in itself virtuous. I don’t mean to minimize the seriousness of divergences at that level, but reconciliation of all things to God through faithfulness to Christ crucified (and the way of the cross and resurrection) is at the heart of the gospel, as I read the NT, rather than a simple tug-of-war at a level where no transformation happens, merely more factious winning and losing. I don’t have the historical facts to say if the write-up is accurate or inaccurate, but given the write-up as it stands, I found Celinda’s point an important one.

  5. Lanfranc–thanks, John, for picking up on him. He was a founder, I think, of Le Bec-Hellouin abbey in Normandy before going to England. I read about the abbey in the travel section of the New York Times the summer I was going to be in France for a month, and spend a wonderful day there. They have a special relationship with the Church of England; “united in hope, if not it ____(I forget what) is written on a stone in the chapel where I went to a communion service. Being an Anglican, I didn’t take communion. But I asked the celebrant afterwards if I could in good conscience have done so, and he said I certainly could have. He said, if I remember correctly, that that issue was up to the diocesan bishop to decide on, and that bishop had no problem. I asked the same question in Paris at St. Germain des Pres and got the same answer, also at the church in Cassis (little town in Provence). Sadly, I didn’t go up to the altar in Cassis (had forgotten to ask permission) but sang and prayed otherwise (very enthusiastic congregation). The people around me asked why I hadn’t gone up, I explained that I was an Anglican, and they asked if Anglicans didn’t permit inter-communion!

  6. The collect doesn’t connect to the facts of Wulfstan’s life — who were the ” those who are oppressed and held in bondage” to which he ministered? He sided against the rebellious “barons” in 1075. By the way, the rebels were earls (not “barons”), and there were only three of them. Of the three, two were disgruntled Normans. The one Anglo-Saxon earl who participated soon lost heart and reported the conspiracy to the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury.
    Although William’s efforts to standardize the administration of justice under royal sheriffs, which the earls saw as an encroachment on their traditional perogatives, may have been a contributing factor, the revolt was touched off by WIlliam’s refusal to let one of the two Norman earls marry the sister of the other.
    As for the Anglo-Saxon peasants, they had merely changed masters. They were no more oppressed than they had been under their Anglo-Saxon and Danish overlords. In fact, William’s legal reforms improved their lot, although it may have taken a while for that fact to sink in.

    • Absolutely right about the collect and the absence of anything in the bio about anyone oppressed and in bondage. The contrast between captivity and freedom belongs to some other commemoration.

  7. In addition to the collect, I’m not sure the readings are right either. How about Jeremiah 29:1,4-9 for the Old Testament and Romans 13:1-10 for the epistle? They seem to catch Wulfstan’s ministry better.

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