IAN’S ‘SAINT OF THE WEEK’: St Æthelwold

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The saint of the week this week commemorates St Æthelwold whose feast day is 1st August, and who by all accounts was a bit of an Anglo-Saxon machine.  He was born in Winchester to noble and wealthy parents in the first decade of the tenth century (there is some dispute around the exact year) and in his teens was placed within the court of King Athelstan, who sent him to be the protégé of Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester.  It was here that he was ordained, and where he learnt both his ecclesiastical and political skills, both of which he would put to very effective use later on in his life.

Subsequent to his installation as bishop of Winchester in 963, he was responsible, along with two other equally industrious bishops Dunstan of Glastonbury and Oswald of Worcester, for bringing the Benedictine reforms that originated in the abbey at Fleury across the Channel to the abbeys of Abingdon, Peterborough, Ely and Thorney, among others.  The tenets of Benedictine rule were laid down in a document called the Regularis Concordia, which Æthelwold was responsible for compiling, and the reforms that he instigated included the replacement of secular priests in the abbeys with monks, many of whom he appointed.  He astutely gained political backing for his actions through his support of Æthelred’s claim to the English throne after the death of Æthelred’s father Edgar in 975

In his spare time (which he clearly had a lot of when he wasn’t reforming monasteries, translating texts, writing rule books, appointing abbots, acting as king-maker and generally transforming the ecclesiastical landscape of tenth century England) he gained a reputation as an artist and goldsmith, and indeed was responsible for setting up a series of artistic workshops which continued to flourish long after his death.  He was also accredited with producing many metal artefacts at Abingdon Abbey, including bells and a pipe organ, as well as tending to the gardens and being actively involved in the day to day running and maintenance of the abbey’s buildings.  I think all in all, he must have taken the warning behind the saying ‘the Devil makes work for idle hands’ very seriously, as idleness does not seem to be something that Æthelwold was any good at!

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