Dunstan, St.

was born of noble parents at Glastonbury, in Somersetshire, in the year 925. Under the patronage of his uncle Aldhelm, archbishop of Canterbury, he was instructed in the literature and accomplishments of those times, and in consequence of his recommendation invited by king Athelstan to court, who bestowed on him lands near Glastonbury, where he is said to have spent some years in retirement. Edmund, the successor of Athelstan, appointed him abbot of the celebrated monastery which he began to rebuild in that place in the year 042, and by the munificence of the king, who gave him a new charter in the year 944, he was enabled to restore it to its former lustre. Among other legendary stories reported of St. Dunstan we are told that he had been represented to the king as a man of licentious manners; and dreading the ruin of his fortune by suspicions of this nature, he determined to repair past indiscretions by exchanging the extreme of superstition for that of licentiousness. Accordingly he secluded himself altogether from the world; and he framed a cell so small that he could neither stand erect in it, nor stretch out his limbs during his repose; and here he employed himself perpetually in devotion or manual labour. In this retreat his mind was probably somewhat deranged; and he indulged chimeras which, believed by himself and announced to the credulous multitude, established a character of sanctity among the | people. He is said to have fancied that the devil, among the frequent visits which he paid him, was one day more earnest than usual in his temptations; till Dunstan, provoked hy his importunity, seized him by the nose with a pair of red-hot pincers as he put his head into the cell, and he held him there till the malignant spirit made the whole neighbourhood resound with his bellowings. The people credited and extolled this notable exploit, and it ensured to Dunstan such a degree of reputation, that he appeared again in the world, and Edred, who had succeeded to the crown, made him not only the director of that prince’s conscience, but his counsellor in the most important affairs of government. He was also placed at the head of the treasury; and being possessed of power at court, and of credit with the populace, he was enabled to attempt with success the most arduous enterprizes. Taking advantage of the implicit confidence reposed in him by the king, Dunstan imported into England a new order of monks, the Benedictines, who, by changing the state of ecclesiastical affairs, excited, on their first establishment, the most violent commotions. Finding also that his advancement had been owing to the opinion of his austerity, he professed himself a parti zan of the rigid monastic rules; and after introducing that reformation into the convents of Glastonbury and Abingdon, he endeavoured to render it universal in the kingdom. This conduct, however, incurred the resentment of the secular clergy; and these exasperated the indignation of many courtiers, which had been already excited by the haughty and over-bearing demeanour which Dunstan assumed. Upon the death of Edred, who had supported his prime-minister and favourite in all his measures, and the subsequent succession of Edwy, Dunstan was accused of malversation in his office, and banished the kingdom. But, on the death of Edwy, and the succession of Edgar, Dunstan was recalled and promoted first to the see of Worcester, then to that of London and about the year 959, to the archiepiscopal see of Canterbury. For this last advancement it was requisite to obtain the sanction of the pope; and for this purpose Dunstan was sent to Rome, where he soon obtained the object of his wishes, and the appointment of legate in England, with very extensive authority. Upon his return to England, so absolute was his influence over the | king, he was enabled to give to the Romish see an authority and jurisdiction, of which the English clergy had been before in a considerable degree independent. In order the more effectually and completely to accomplish this object, the secular clergy were excluded from their livings, and disgraced; and the monks were appointed to supply their places. The scandalous lives of the secular clergy furnished one plea for this measure, and it was not altogether groundless; but the principal motive was that of rendering the papal power absolute in the English church; for, at this period, the English clergy had not yielded implicit submission to the pretended successors of St. Peter, as they refused to comply with the decrees of the popes, which enjoined celibacy on the clergy. Dunstan was active and persevering, and supported by the authority of the crown, he conquered the struggles which the country had long maintained against papal dominion, and gave to the monks an influence, the baneful effects of which were experienced in England until the era of the reformation. Hence Dunstan has been highly extolled by the monks and partizans of the Romish church; and his character has been celebrated in a variety of ways, and particularly by the miracles which have been wrought either by himself or by others in his favour. During the whole reign of Edgar, Dunstan maintained his interest at court; and upon his death, in the year 975, his influence served to raise his son Edward to the throne, in opposition to Ethelred. Whilst Edward was in his minority, Dunstan ruled with absolute sway, both in the church and state, but on the murder of the king, in the year 979, and after the accession of Ethelred, his credit and influence declined; and the contempt with which his threatenings of divine vengeance were regarded by the king, are said to have mortified him to such a degree, that on his return to his archbishopric, he died of grief and vexation, May 19, 988. A volume of his works was published at Doway, in 1626. His ambition has given him a considerable place in ecclesiastical and civil history; and he appears to have been a man of extraordinary talents. Dr. Burney, in his history, notices his skill in music, and his biographers also inform us that he was a master of drawing, engraved and took impressions from gold, silver, brass, and iron, and that he even practised something like printing. Gervase’s | words are, “literas formare,” which however, we think, means no more than that he cut letters on metal. 1


Hume’s Hist, of England. Dugdale’s Monasticon. Henry’s Hit. of England, vol. III. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Tanner.