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Tip o' the Week # 105 - Saint Dunstan:  Good News/Bad News

Dear [firstname]

St Dunstan        St Dunstan & the Devil

St. Dunstan
in the Patrick Chapel
Glastonbury Abbey


St Dunstan
and the Devil
in St Johns Church,


Most historians term the last half of the first millennium after Christ as a Dark Age in Europe.   St. Dunstan, is seen as a key figure in England's subsequent recovery of Christianity that had essentially devolved during that period, and thus he is our local Saint.  Dunstan was thought of as the most outstanding of the English saints before the invasion of William the Conqueror.  He was born in 909 CE just outside of Glastonbury in Baltonsborough.

He went to school in the Glastonbury Abbey, and became its Abbot in 943.  One of Dunstan's first steps as Abbot was to reintroduce monastic discipline using the Rule of St. Benedict (± 547). He enlarged the church and other buildings and bolstered the Abbey's reputation as a centre of learning. Students at the school were taught by professed monks and were expected to participate in the daily monastic observances. This preparation provided a good crop of candidates for monasticism. Soon Glastonbury became a spearhead for a widespread monastic revival.

The Irish Connections

Just how much Irish influence there was on the Abbey just before the end of the first millennium CE is much debated; however, Bligh Bond, the Church Architect and Antiquarian who did the dig of the Abbey in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, found the remains of what he called the Dunstan Chapel just to the west of the Mary Chapel:

The Dunstan Chaple

The Dunstan Chapel
The form of the foundation with the extensions at each corner
(best seen in the left hand corner) mark this as a typically Irish structure. 
This shape is found all over Ireland, but only a small handful
of these structures are known in England.

St. Dunstan was known as an excellent metalsmith (he's the saint of goldsmiths and jewelers), but also he was known for his Irish harp playing.  Glastonbury's local secondary school, St. Dunstan's, has a harp as its symbol.  Our Glastonbury Tercentennial Labyrinth, which honours four famous spiritual people in our town's history. Dunstan is one, and his symbol in this labyrinth is also a harp.

Glastonbury Tercentennial Labyrinth   Dunstan corner stone
The Glastonbury Tercentennial Labyrinth   The Dunstan Stone
marks one of the four 180° turns
in this labyrinth

Here is another illustration of St Dunstan playing the harp while the Devil sneaks in through the door:

Dunstan, Harp & Devil
Dunstan, Harp & Devil
(From Wikipedia)

But more of the Devil later.

Dunstan became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 960 CE.  And in that role, continued to strengthen the renewal of the Church and especially the rules of the Benedictine Order.  After celebrating the Divine Liturgy on the Feast of Ascension, 988 CE, St. Dunstan preached a sermon in which he foretold that within the next three days he would die, which he did.  Dunstan was buried in his cathedral, where his tomb was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Until Thomas a Becket later eclipsed Dunstan's fame he was the most popular English saint. 

Several years ago, I went to Canterbury Cathedral to look for his place of burial within the Cathedral.  I asked a number of Docents (guides with blue sashes carrying thick notebooks of information) where that was.  None of them seemed to know until I asked a frail older Docent, and he took me to Dunstan's resting place.  The large floor stone marking his grave was just to the right of, and touching the High Altar - a reasonable (but sadly forgotten) indication of his importance to the Church. 


It is my feeling that whenever a period of history is termed a "Dark Age," it means that the ruling culture of the HISstorian who later wrote about the "Dark" time was not in charge. While there were some notable exceptions (like the Venerable Bede 672-735CE) the Dark Age of Europe in the last half of the first millennium CE was not controlled by Christians. Most of the people were still pagans and some of the things that they were interested in would be of great interest to people like geomancers and practitioners of what HISstorians now call the "Dark" Arts - once again, an aspect of spirituality that Christians were not in control of.  (Not all witches are bad, not all Catholic priests are good.)

So here comes the Devil.  As I said above, St. Dunstan, is seen as a key figure in England's subsequent recovery of Christianity that had essentially been on hold during the Dark Age.  There are a number of pictures that symbolise St. Dunstan's termination of this Dark Age.  He was an excellent silversmith, and we are told that while he was making a chalice, the Devil annoyed him by his personal appearance, and tempted him whereupon St. Dunstan suddenly seized the fiend by the nose with a pair of iron tongs, burning hot, and so held him while he roared and cried till the night was far spent.

Dunstan & Tongs   DUnstan & Tongs
Dunstan holds the Devil by the nose with Tongs
Illustration from honearchive.org/etexts/edb/day-pages/139-may19.html

  Dunstan holds the Devil by the nose with Tongs
Glastonbury Abbey

St. Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull'd the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.

Please understand me, I am not anti Christian.  Among other deities, I honour Jesus every evening when I go to bed for the many positive things that have come through from his teachings in the last two thousand years.  But I also feel that Christians have a lot to answer for since the founding of the Church up to their impact today on modern politics in both America and here in Britain. St. Dunstan's eradication of the Dark Age was just the beginning of the chain of persecution of alternative thinkers that led to the Inquisition and many other atrocious acts of intolerance of groups people like dowsers and geomancers (not to mention followers of Islam and other non-Christian religions).

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Seneca Wolf Clan Mother Grandmother Twylah Nitsch spoke about our Sacred Point of View - When sitting in a circle and looking at an object in the middle (in this case one's path to the One), we all see that path differently; we each have our individual Sacred Point of View.  This is the case for me with our local Saint Dunstan.  He was both good news and bad news.


sig's sig
Sig Lonegren
MAG Webmaster
SunnyBank, 9 Bove Town
Glastonbury, Somerset
England BA6 8JE
+44 (0)1458 835 818

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