Celtic and Old English Saints         30 May

* St. Walstan the Generous
* Saint Mauguille of Picardy

St. Walstan the Generous, of Bawburgh (of Taverham)

In the year 975 a child was born in the village of Bawburgh, a few miles
to the west of Norwich in Norfolk(1). His parents were called Benedict
and Blide and were nobles related to the English Royal Family of the
House of Wessex. His mother indeed was a kinswoman of King Ethelred and
his son Edmund Ironside(2). This child was baptized Walstan.

>From the example of his parents, who possessed books, the child Walstan
studied the Scriptures. In particular he was troubled by the meaning and
implications of a verse in the Gospel of St Luke (14, 33): 'Whosoever he
be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my
disciple'. At the age of seven Walstan received instruction in the Faith
from Bishop Theodred of Elmham with the assistance of Fr Жlred, the
parish priest of Bawburgh. At this early date the child Walstan pledged
to renounce all for love of God, asking not for an earthly crown as he
of noble blood might perhaps expect, but for a crown of thorns and an
eternal reward. He vowed to devote himself to God in humility and
anonymity, forsaking the material security of his home and his ties of

Shortly before his thirteenth birthday, Walstan told his parents that he
must now leave their home. Although forewarned of their son's
renunciation in a dream, Benedict and Blide were reluctant to let their
son depart. Eventually, however, they realised that this was God's Will
for him and they consented to his wish(3).

Thus Walstan left his parents' home and took to the road. Almost at once
he met two beggars to whom he gave his rich garments. He then walked on
northwards, clad in the poorest of clothes, with no outward sign of his
parents' wealth. Within an hour or so the path had taken him to the
village of Taverham, only a few miles north of Bawburgh, where he
rested. A landed peasant called Nalga saw him and, in need of a
labourer, offered Walstan work. The latter agreed.

Walstan soon gained a reputation for hard work and piety and also
developed an affinity with the poor and was charitable in the extreme,
giving both his food and clothing to those less fortunate than himself.
Often he would carry out his work barefoot, having given away even his
shoes. Nalga's wife, seeing him thus, once gave him new shoes and extra
food. Within a short time Walstan had given all away to two passing
beggars, one of them barefoot. When Nalga and his wife heard this, they
were angry with him, but Walstan answered that the men had been sent
providentially by God to find out whether he, Walstan, loved God more
than himself: 'I shod Christ in the poor man', he said. The wife sneered
at this and ordered Walstan to take a cart to the forest to fetch a load
of briars, treading the thorns well down with his unshod feet.
Miraculously, Walstan appeared to be treading on rose leaves and the
thorns, as soft as petals ever were, gave out a sweet fragrance. Seeing
this, Nalga and his wife fell at Walstan's feet and begged forgiveness.
Thus did Walstan 'forsake all' to be the Lord's disciple and win 'a
crown of thorns'.

Over the years Walstan became known and loved for his prayer and
fasting, hard work, chastity and love for all. As a sign of His
approval, God allowed miracles to occur through His servant. Animals
were brought to him to be healed and people too claimed cures through
his prayers and ministrations. Whatever he did, God blessed. Everything
prospered through his labours. All the while he continued to live in
poverty, keeping his royal identity a secret and giving away the money
he earned. Such was the secret of his anonymity that even his parents,
only a few miles away at Bawburgh, never came to suspect that the
good-hearted labourer at Taverham, of whom they must have heard, could
be their son.

So it was that Nalga and his wife, having no children of their own, grew
to love Walstan and made him many gifts, wanting to make him their heir.
True to his self-denial in accordance with the Gospel, he refused all
this, continuing to labour on the land for thirty years of unbroken
service. Finally, he did accept from Nalga the gift of two white calves
and a small wagon. However this was not for covetousness sake but to
fulfil God's Will, an angel having commanded him to do so.

In May 1016, at the start of hay making, Walstan was mowing with another
labourer when an angel appeared to him, saying: 'Brother Walstan, on the
third day after this thou shalt depart this life in peace and enter
Paradise'. At once Walstan put down his scythe and went in search of the
village priest. The next day, being a Saturday, Walstan stopped work at
midday in accordance with the laws of the Church, for this was the eve
of the Sabbath Day. Then there could be heard the ringing of heavenly
bells and an indescribable unearthly music: the heavens opened and
angels appeared ringing to the glory and praise of the Undivided

Now, that Saturday afternoon Nalga went to the market in Norwich, which
was then under the government of the Danish King Canute. To his
amazement he heard there a proclamation that anyone knowing the
whereabouts of Walstan, son of Benedict and Blide and kinsman of the
English King Edmund of the House of Wessex, should inform the
authorities. Nalga learned that the Danes under Canute were about to
take over the whole of England. The proclamation warned that whoever was
sheltering Walstan must deliver him up forthwith or else forsake both
his wealth and his life. Alarmed, Nalga hastened back to Taverham. 'What
shall I say', he asked, 'when I tell the Danes that all the while I have
kept thee, heir to the Kingdom of England, here'. Walstan answered that
he must tell the truth and that he was his servant. He then disclosed
the angelic revelation and asked Nalga to tell the priest to come to him
on Monday when Walstan would be at work so that he could confess and
take communion.

Thus it was that on Monday 30 May 1016 the village priest came to
Walstan as he was mowing in the fields. He had worked with his scythe
until the morning ended and then his hour came. As the priest prepared
to give Walstan communion, he realised that he had no water to wash
their hands. Walstan prayed and at once a spring gushed up before him as
he knelt in prayer. Having then taken communion, he told those gathered
there that after his repose, they were to place his body on the wagon
and yoke it to the two white calves. No one should lead them, but the
calves should go where God pleased. He then besought God that every sick
labourer and beast should obtain healing of their infirmity, provided
that they asked with reverent devotion. At that a voice was heard from
heaven, saying: 'O Holy Walstan, that which thou hast asked is granted.
Come from thy labours and rest'

With that Walstan gave up the ghost and a white dove was seen flying

As directed, Nalga and the people of Taverham laid Walstan's body on the
wagon and attached the calves to it. The calves then proceeded along the
banks of the River Wensum and through a wood. At the deepest point of
the river they crossed, passing over the water dry shod and those who
followed passed along dry wheel tracks and hoof prints. The white calves
came to Costessey Wood nearby and stopped to rest. Here a second spring
gushed forth and flowed with clear water.

The procession, gaining in numbers, then continued, crossing marsh and
mire, until they came to Walstan's birthplace, Bawburgh, near where the
land rises away from the banks of the River Yare. Here they paused again
and a third spring gushed up. The calves then mounted the steep hill to
the Church and entered through an opening in the wall, made by angels,
which then closed up behind them. They remained there until the third
afternoon when Bishop Жlfgar of Elmham came with monks for the funeral

The Bishop, knowing from his predecessor Theodred something of Walstan's
childhood, listened attentively to Nalga and the local people. They told
him of the many wonders of Walstan and the Bishop made diligent
enquiries as to the truth(4). Then, being satisfied, he allowed the
relics to be venerated as those of a Saint and sent notice to that
effect to all the neighbouring churches (5).

The body was enshrined in a chapel in the north transept of Bawburgh
church. With the Bishop's blessing and by popular consent (6), the site
became a place of pilgrimage. Through Walstan's intercessions, the Lord
bestowed miracles of healing on man and beast alike and all those who
sought healing at the three springs were rewarded with cure. In
particular the possessed were exorcised, the deaf and dumb were healed
and those with troubled eyesight had it restored by bathing their eyes
in the water from the spring at Bawburgh. And in 1047 the enhanced
church and shrine chapel were rededicated by Bishop Жthelmar of Elmham
to Mary the Mother of God and St Walstan.

The veneration of St Walstan survived 'the first reformation of the
English Church'(7); the 'Old Faith' continued for a while yet. St
Walstan was portrayed in a number of mediжval churches with other
'Eastern Saints'. Thus at Great Ryburgh in Norfolk, he may be seen with
St Felix, St Audrey and St Withburgh. At Fritton on the Norfolk-Suffolk
border, he is portrayed together with St Felix, St Fursey, St Audrey and
St Withburgh. At Foxearth on the Essex-Suffolk border he is shown on a
screen together with St Alban, St Felix and St Edmund. His portraits
depict him with a scythe and a crown or sceptre, at times with the two
white calves in the background. St Walstan was particularly beloved of
East Anglian farmers and farm workers. Indeed his shrine continued as a
site of pilgrimage until the second reformation of the English Church.
Sadly at that 'reformation', the holy relics were burned and the shrine
chapel destroyed in 1538.

However, local veneration has continued right up to the present time and
people have continued to bathe their eyes in the springs, place moss
from the springs on their eyes, especially that from Bawburgh, and also
give the waters to sick animals. At Taverham one may still find
'Walstanham Plantation', the reputed site of Nalga's farm and the
Saint's repose. In the nineteenth century, if not more recently, local
Catholics baptised their sons 'Walstan'. Annual pilgrimages were revived
at the beginning of the twentieth century; that of 1912 united five
hundred people. They have continued regularly ever since. Healings have
taken place within living memory. There is still a Saint Walstan's Well
at Costessey, a pilgrimage site for those
seeking his intercession for the cure of fevers, palsy, lameness, and
blindness. As recently as 1989 St Walstan was declared 'Patron-Saint
of British Food and Farming'. And in 1998 there took place the first
Orthodox pilgrimage to Bawburgh, which is to be continued in the future

Holy Righteous Walstan, pray to God for us!

(1) The Life of St Walstan provides a good example of a local saint. His
veneration never spread outside the Eastern Counties. Details of his
Life were no doubt compiled by the East Anglian bishops of the first
half of the eleventh century, but all was later lost. The Life as it now
appears was probably written down only in the fourteenth century and the
versions that we have are later still. We have therefore removed from
its retelling here mediжval anachronisms such as Walstan's first
communion at age seven. (Right up until the end of the twelfth century,
confirmation and therefore communion followed baptism very closely,
usually within weeks or months in accordance with ancient Christian

(2) According to the Life of St Walstan, his mother Blide was related to
Elgiva, the first wife of King Ethelred 'the Unready'. Ethelred's
fateful rule had begun from the martyrdom of his half-brother Edward the
Martyr on 18 March 978 and lasted until 23 April 1015 when he died.
Ethelred would never have been King if it had not been for Edward's
martyrdom. Everything this hapless man undertook went awry and he not
only managed to lose most of his Kingdom to the Danish Canute at the
beginning of the eleventh century but also married a second time into
the Norman ruling family, thus ensuring the Norman Invasion in 1066. He
was succeeded by his valiant son Edmund 'Ironside', who nearly defeated
the Danish Cnut or Canute. Edmund fathered two children between 1016 and
1017 but he himself died on 30 November 1016. Blide or 'Blythe', whose
name means 'Joy', reposed in old age. She was revered as a saint at
Martham, some fifteen miles to the north west of Norwich where she was
buried. Here a chapel was dedicated to her and there was a local cult in
Norfolk. We do not know the date of her feast.

(3) It is interesting to note the resemblance between the Life of the
Righteous St Walstan and that of St Alexis of Rome, 'the Man of God',
commemorated on 17 March.

(4) The Bishops of Norfolk referred to in the Life are all historic
figures. Their See was then at North Elmham in central Norfolk. This was
transferred to Thetford and then Norwich only later by the Normans.
Theodred II was bishop from 980 to 995, Жlfgar from 1001 to 1021 and
Жthelmar from 1047 to 1070.

(5) This would have been the starting-point of the first written Life of
St Walstan - since lost.

(6) In Orthodox theology these few words are the very definition of the
difference between 'glorification' (popular consent and veneration) and
'canonisation' (official investigation and episcopal blessing and
confirmation). Some do not realise this and incorrectly deny the
existence of the canonisation process in the Orthodox Church. Of course
that process is very different from that in the Roman Catholic Church.
The latter only developed its present canonisation process in the Middle

(7) See Carol Twinch, In Search of St Walstan, Norwich 1995, P. 36.

(8) For a description of the 1998 Orthodox Pilgrimage, see Orthodox
England, Vol 2, No 3.


In art, Saint Walstan is depicted as a crowned farm labourer holding a
scythe. At times the picture may include (1) the word "Opifer" by him;
(2) scythe and sceptre; (3) scythe, crown, and two calves; or scythe and
ermine cape (Roeder). He is the patron of mowers and husbandmen in the
area (Husenbeth).

Canon to the Holy Righteous Walstan of Taverham

Icon of St Walstan

St. Madelgisilus (Maguil, Mauguille), Hermit
Born in Ireland; died c. 655. Saint Mauguille, as he is known among the
French, was an Irish monk, disciple, and confidant of Saint Fursey
(f.d. January 16). After living some years at Saint-Riquier Abbey,
Mauguille and Saint Vulgan (Pulcan?) became hermits near Monstrelet in
Picardy, where Mauguille died (Benedictines).


Attwater, D. (1983). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, NY:
Penguin Books.

Attwater, D. (1958). A Dictionary of Saints. New York:
P. J. Kenedy & Sons. [Attwater 2]

Benedictine Monks of Saint Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of saints. NY: Macmillan.

Coulson, J. (ed.). (1960). The Saints: A Concise Biographical
Dictionary. New York: Hawthorn Books.
Green & Co.

Husenbeth, Rev. F. C., DD, VG (ed.). (1928). Butler's
Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints.
London: Virtue & Co.

Roeder, H. (1956). Saints and Their Attributes, Chicago: Henry

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