Thursday, August 16, 2012


St. Wulfstan's Curse

William of Malmesbury, Life of Wulfstan 2.17, in William of Malmesbury, Saints' Lives: Lives of SS. Wulfstan, Dunstan, Patrick, Benignus and Indract, edd. M. Winterbottom and E.N. Thomson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), English translation on pp. 95 and 97, footnotes omitted:
Wulfstan's people were especially concerned to avoid his being provoked by any fault of theirs into irritation or harsh language. Not that he fell readily into either, or if he ever did it was for some good and clear reason, as the following case shows. One Ælfsige, who had been a thegn of King Edward, invited Wulfstan to his vill of Longney on the Severn to dedicate a church. He never made difficulties about something like that, but when he arrived he found that there was not enough room for the people who had, as usual, come in droves to hear him. 2. What is more, there was in the churchyard a nut tree which provided shade with its spreading leaves, but whose luxuriant branches denied light to the church. The bishop summoned his host and gave orders for the felling of the tree: it was only proper that, if nature had not provided enough room, he should supplement it by his own efforts, and certainly not take over for his own low pursuits space that nature had given—for the man had the habit of spending leisure time under the tree, especially on a summer's day, dicing or feasting, or indulging in some other kind of jollification. That was why the man, far from obeying humbly, obstinately refused, and fell, as he later admitted, into such impudent madness that he was prepared to see the church undedicated rather than have the tree cut down. 3. The saint, in no small degree provoked by this impertinence, hurled the spear of his curse at the tree. From the wound it gradually grew barren, failed in its fruit, and shrivelled up from the root. This sterility so irked the owner that in his annoyance he ordered the felling of a tree he had jealously owned and dearly longed to keep(?). The bishop told the story later to Coleman, when he returned to the vill, and showed him the spot in proof of the miracle. And Coleman always maintained and expressed the firm view that nothing could be more bitter than the curse of St. Wulfstan, or more agreeable than his blessing.
God forbid that anyone should spend leisure time under a tree, "especially on a summer's day, dicing or feasting, or indulging in some other kind of jollification."

Thanks very much to Andrew Rickard for his help.


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