Book 2, Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair from 955 AD to 975 – Dunstan
A short time before his birth, his parents, Heorstan and Cynethryth, were at church on the festival of the Purification, known in this country by the name of Candlemas, because all who attended it carried lighted candles, with which they walked in procession after the service. In the midst of mass, the lamps and tapers were suddenly extinguished, the church, though at midday, was filled with a preternatural darkness, and while the whole congregation, in fear and trembling, wondered what this might portend, a fire descended from heaven, and kindled the taper in Cynethryth’s hand, thus miraculously foreshowing how great a light should from her be born into the world. To this church, Dunstan, while yet a child, was taken by his father, to pass the vigil of some great holiday in devotional exercises, and falling asleep, he saw in a vision a venerable old mail, with a heavenly countenance, in garments white as snow, who, telling him that that building must be enlarged and elevated, led him over it, measuring the ground with a line, and impressed upon his mind ineffaceably the plan and dimensions of the work which he was appointed to accomplish. These are specimens of the legends and miracles with which the records of Dunstan’s life abound.
He was of diminutive size from his birth, and by severe application to study, brought on a disease, in which after having been delirious for many days, he was thought to be at the point of death. But feeling at night a sudden excitement as if health was restored, he rose from his bed, and ran towards the church to return thanks for his recovery. The doors were closed, but he found a ladder, left there by workmen who had been repairing the roof, by this he ascended, and in the morning was found asleep in the church, unconscious how he had come there. They who lard the history of his life with miracles assert that as he was going there, the Devil beset hint with a pack of fiendish dogs, and was driven away by his strenuous exertions, and that angels had borne hint down where it was not possible for him to have descended without supernatural assistance. Divested of such machinery, the fact appears to be, that in an excess of delirium, or perhaps in his sleep, he had got into the church, by some perilous mode of descent, which he would not have attempted in his senses, he himself at that time might easily believe this to be miraculous, and thenceforth he was regarded as a youth from whom something extraordinary was to be looked for.
His youth was agitated by a tumult of contending passions. With the monastic habit were connected all the internal enjoyments of piety to those who valued them, and to those who were less devout it gave a release from the dread of futurity, the reputation and the means of peculiar sanctity, and an impressive empire over the minds of men. But it exacted a renunciation of the charms of mutual affection, of the delights of a growing family, and of those numerous gratifications with which social life in every age abounds. His health was unequal to the conflict a dangerous disease attacked him before he could decide, without and his life was despaired of. He laid a prospect of recovery, and so senseless that the pulse of life seemed to have ceased, at last it slowly returned, and he rose from the bed of sickness with an altered mind, renounced the flattering world, assumed the monastic habit, and condemned himself to celibacy.
His cell at Glastonbury was five feet long, two and a half wide, and not above four feet in height, above the ground, but the ground was excavated, so that he could stand upright in it, though it was impossible for him to lie there at full length. The door filled up one side, and the window was in the door. This was his forge and workshop, as well as his dwelling place, and this was the scene of the most notorious miracle in the monastic history of England, for here it was that the Devil, who annoyed him sometimes in the shape of a bear, sometimes of a dog, a serpent, or a fox, came one night in a human form to molest him, while he was working at the forge, and looking in at the window, began to tempt him with wanton conversation.
Dunstan, who had not at first recognised his visitor, bore it till he had heated his tongs sufficiently, and then with the red hot instrument seized him by the nose. So he is said to have declared to the neighbours, who came in the morning to ask what those horrible cries were, which had startled them from their sleep and the miraculous story obtained for him the credit which he sought.
The contemporary author of Dunstan’s life, an eyewitness of many of his actions, and probably an instrument in them, has related that when the king’s officers were making an inventory of his goods at Glastonbury, the Devil was heard laughing and rejoicing, and that the Saint, knowing his voice, told him not to exult too much, for upon a change of affairs he would be as much cast down.
He seems to have been distinguished for his intercourse with devils and for his power of discerning them. As he was travelling with a nobleman to a royal banquet, he suddenly perceived his enemy running playfully about among the royal trumpeters, Be bade the duke, who saw nothing, make the sign of the cross on his eyes, who then beheld a devil leaping about in the shape of a little black man. It was from seeing him again wandering among the servants of the household, that he declared the king would die in three days, and he be held him a third time carrying great rolls of writing in his hands at the very moment when his sovereign Edmund was passing from mass to the banquet in which he was stabbed.
These tales must have been invented for him, or told by himself, if the latter, we must suppose either that he had a diseased imagination, or that he wilfully fabricated them. Such as they were, however, they were eagerly received by the credulous and the superstitious, especially among the monks, who were always ready to extol an alleged miracle whereby the renown and wealth of their favourite shrines might be increased. In one vision Dunstan declared he saw his own mother married to the venerated Saviour of the Christian world, with every nuptial pomp. Amid the singing, a heavenly youth asked Dunstan why he did not join in the rejoicings of so great a marriage for his mother, and on his mentioning his ignorance, taught him a song. Dunstan promulgated this by summoning a monk to attend him on his pretended waking, who from his dictation committed the song to writing.
Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair
Chapter 8, Origin of Monasteries in England
Chapter 8, Dunstan
His Alleged Visions and Miracles
Chapter 8, Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy
Categories: Book 2