Dunstan of Canterbury

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Our father among the saints Dunstan of Canterbury was an Archbishop of Canterbury in Anglo-Saxon England. He actively supported the founding and restoration of monasteries in England and was influential among the kings of England. In addition he was an artisan, proficient as a goldsmith and metal-worker.

Life

Dunstan was born of a Wessex noble family at Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury, England. The date of his birth is unknown and has been in dispute, but may have been around 909. He was educated by Irish monks from the abbey at Glastonbury. While a youth he was sent to the court of King Athelstan. About 934, Dunstan was tonsured a monk and ordained a priest by his Uncle, St Alphege, who was Bishop of Winchester. He lived for a time as a hermit at Glastonbury. In 943, King Edmund called him to the royal court and appointed him abbot of Glastonbury. At the abbey he moved to re-establish a monastic life under the Rules of St Benedict. Under his leadership the abbey was rebuilt and prospered, becoming a center of learning. At the same time Dunstan helped revitalize nearby monasteries.

After King Edmund was murdered and Edred became king, Dunstan became his advisor, and began a reformation of all the monasteries in Edred’s kingdom. In time Dunstan became involved in the West Saxon politics and developed enemies when he censured Edred’s nephew Edwy for his scandalous lifestyle. In 955, Edwy succeeded Edred on the throne, and Edwy quickly took his revenge on Dunstan by confiscating his property and sending him into exile.

Dunstan fled to Flanders, to the Abbey of Mont Blandin, near Ghent. At the abbey, Dunstan experienced for the first time the disciplined life of the Benedictine order that he had introduced at Glastonbury. But, he did not stay long as toward the end of 957 Edwy’s excesses resulted in a revolt that drove him from the throne of the lands north of the Thames. His brother Edgar was then installed as king, and Dunstan was asked to return. On his return Abp. Oda of Canterbury consecrated him a bishop and appointed him to the see of Worcester. In 958 when the See of London became vacant this see was also conferred on Bp. Dunstan. Then in 960, King Edgar named Dunstan archbishop to the vacant see of Canterbury. After his return from receiving the pallium of office from Pope John XII in Rome, Abp. Dunstan became a close advisor of King Edgar and gained a position as virtual ruler of the kingdom. From this position Abp. Dunstan pushed reforms in the life of the realm, both within the Church and in the State. The crowning point of Abp. Dunstan’s work and statesmanship was the coronation in Bath of King Edgar in 673 by the two archbishops of Canterbury and York. The coronation service by Dunstan became the basis for British coronation service use through to today.

Two years later Edgar died, being succeeded by his oldest son, Edward whom Dunstan crowned in Winchester. Then in March 978, King Edward was martyred and was succeeded by his step-brother Ethelred the Unready. The coronation of Ethelred was the last action of state performed by Abp. Dunstan. After Ethelred took the usual oath, Abp. Dunstan addressed the new king, rebuking him for the act that brought him to the throne and prophesying the coming misfortunes that were to fall on the realm. With this his influence at the court came to an end. He retired to Canterbury, to spend the remainder of his life there, active in his duties within the church.

The great Archbishop reposed on May 19, 988. He was buried in his cathedral in Canterbury. Later, his relics were translated to a tomb near the high altar of the new cathedral after the original burned in 1074.

He was canonized a saint in 1029. His feast day in May 19.


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