Saint of the week

Saint Dunstan

19th May

Dunstan (909 – 19 May 988) was an Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, a Bishop of Worcester, a Bishop of London, and an Archbishop of Canterbury, later canonised as a saint. His work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church.

  The Anglo Saxon Chroncile records the events of the Witan held at Calne in 978: “This year all the chief witan of the English nation fell at Calne from an upper chamber, except the holy archbishop Dunstan, who alone supported himself upon a beam ; and there some were grievously maimed, and some did not escape wnth life.”

A hymn to St Dunstan for use on his feast-day, which was probably composed at Canterbury early in the eleventh century, is recorded in ‘Hymns of the Anglo-Saxon Church,’ ed. Inge B. Milfull (Cambridge, 1996.):

Ave Dunstane, presulum
sidus decusque splendidum,
lux vera gentis Anglice
et ad deum dux praevie.

Tu spes tuorum maxima,
dulcedo necnon intima
spirans odorum balsama
vitalium melliflua.

Tibi, pater, nos credimus,
quibus te nil iocundius,
ad te manus expandimus,
tibi preces effundimus.

Oves tuas, pastor pie,
passim premunt angustie.
Mucrone gentis barbare
necamur, en, cristicole.

Offer, sacerdos, hostias
Christo precum gratissimas,
quibus placatus criminum
solvat catenas ferreas,

Per quas Anglorum terminis
ecclesiæque filiis
et nationes perfide
pestesque cedant noxiæ.

Per te, pater, spes unica,
per te, proles, pax unica
et spiritus, lux unica
adsit nobis in secula. Amen.

The translation is:

Hail Dunstan, star and shining adornment of bishops, true light of the English nation and leader preceding it on its path to God.

You are the greatest hope of your people, and also an innermost sweetness, breathing the honey-sweet fragrance of life-giving balms.

In you, Father, we trust, we to whom nothing is more pleasing than you are. To you we stretch out our hands, to you we pour out our prayers.

Your sheep, holy shepherd, are oppressed by troubles on all sides. See how we Christians are being slaughtered by the swords of the pagan nation!

Offer, O priest, the sacrifice to Christ of most welcome prayers, so that by them he may be appeased and release us from the iron fetters of our transgressions.

Through them may heathen peoples and harmful diseases depart from the lands of the English and the sons of the church.

Through you may the Father, our only hope, through you may the Son, our only peace, and the Spirit, our only light, be with us forever. Amen.


The miniature illustration was formerly bound at the front of a Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, written at Christ Church, Canterbury, c.1170. The text was probably copied from a 10th-century manuscript which was corrected and annotated by Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury (d.988), and although he was not the original author, he is depicted in this full-page ‘author portrait’. Dunstan is shown with a halo, wearing his full ecclesiastical vestments. He writes in an open book (the semi-circular head- and tail-tabs, typical of 12th-century bindings, are clearly visible), holding the parchment down with his pen-knife. The words he writes are the first words of the Rule of St. Benedict (‘Obsculta o filii precepta magistri’).

 The manuscript is the “Expositio in Regulam S. Benedicti”. Royal MS 10 A.xiii, f. 2
© The British Library


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