St Walstan (c.980 – 1016)


Born into a noble family at Bawburgh, Walstan renounced his inheritance at the age of 12 to work as a farm labourer at Taverham. Here, in charity and humility, he gave away his wages, food and clothing to those less fortunate. Once, meeting two men without food or shoes, Walstan gave them his. To teach him a lesson, his employer’s wife sent Walstan to load a cart with thorns and brambles – barefoot. He obeyed, and the thorns became like rose petals. The woman and her husband, realising the boy was ‘different’, fell at his unmarked feet begging forgiveness. They tried to make him their heir: he refused but accepted a gift of two white bull calves and that particular cart. Their farm was north of Taverham church and here, on May 27th 1016, Walstan was mowing hay with another labourer when an angel appeared and told him that he would be called to Paradise in three days’ time. Walstan gave thanks and went to receive the Sacraments. Next day he laid down his scythe saying he wasn’t allowed to work until Monday: he could hear celestial trumpets and bells ringing above him. His comrade heard and saw nothing so Walstan told him to place his foot on his own – and the other was favoured with a vision of Heaven. On Monday May 30th the two were again mowing when Walstan laid down his scythe, saying his hour had come. The Viaticum was brought, but the priest forgot the water for the ablutions; with no time to fetch it, they prayed and a spring appeared. Commending himself to God, Our Lady and the Saints, Walstan made his last will and testament, praying that any labourer or farmer with a sick animal, and anyone disabled by illness, should call on God in his name – “and not just once” – to find relief. A voice from Heaven confirmed the grant of his request and, as Walstan breathed his last, something like a dove came from his mouth and disappeared into a bright cloud. Laid on his cart, pulled by his two oxen, Walstan’s final journey began: they crossed the River Wensum dry shod, left cart tracks n the surface of the RiverTud, and rested on an escarpment wherea second well sprang up. The oxen finally stopped below Bawburgh church hill, where a third well sprang up. Walstan was buried in the church, and formally canonised by the Bishop of North Elmham. It became a place of pilgrimage, but Walstan’s remains and his shrine were destroyed in 1538.Two well sites remain and although ‘unfit for human consumption well water from Bawburgh is still used, as at the consecration of the Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Walstan. Closely documented cures continued, even to modern times. Pilgrimages to each ell take place annually, and Walstan himself was declared Patron of Agriculture in the British Food and Farming Year of 1989.

Nick Walmsley ©2018

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