Bishops to mark Norfolk saint's 1000th anniversary
This year marks the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Norfolk-born Saint Walstan, the patron saint of agriculture and farmworkers, who was born in the village of Bawburgh, five miles west of Norwich, and buried in the church. Mike Wiltshire reports.
A celebration of his life is being held in Bawburgh over the late May bank holiday weekend (May 28 to 30), including a medieval pilgrimage, a service led by the Bishop of Norwich and the Catholic Bishop of East Anglia, and a three-day flower festival.
In September there will also be a “a multi-arts performance” by the Slow Theatre Company for composers, singers, musicians and writers in the memorial garden of the ruined church of St Michael’s of all Angels in Bowthorpe – a site where there has been a church for 1,000 years.
Walstan was born into a wealthy family connected with the old royal house of East Anglia — probably on the side of his saintly mother, Blida, whose husband was Benedict. At the age of 12, young Walstan forsook his wealthy background to follow a life of evangelical poverty, and became a farm worker for 33 years in Taverham, located seven miles away on the River Wensum, six miles from Norwich.
He had a reputation for piety and generosity, giving away food and clothing – and he himself often went barefoot. He was known as a saintly mystic who had visions and prayed for sick people and animals that were regularly brought to him.
Walstan died on May 30, 1016 while scything hay in a meadow. It was often said that he passed away after seeing an angelic vision. Walstan’s body was laid on a cart pulled by two white oxen (as he had instructed) and the cortege ended up at Bawburgh, where he was buried. It is said that a spring arose at three points along his final journey, where the oxen rested.
Within three years of his death, Walstan was canonised by St Algar, Bishop of Elmham, the predecessor of the Bishops of Norwich, and his body enshrined in a chapel at Bawburgh Church.
A three-day event to commemorate the 1,000 year anniversary of St Walstan's death and burial at Bawburgh Church will take place from Saturday May 28 to Monday May 30 between 10.30am and 4.30pm.
A Flower Festival themed on the Life of Saint Walstan in Bawburgh Church, will take place over all three days. Entry is free and programmes will be available for £1 in the Church. Refreshments will be available next door at Church Farmhouse, where the garden will be open with a circular walk to Saint Walstan's Well. The St Withburga's Ringers will perform on Saturday lunchtime.
A pilgrimage from Marlingford to Bawburgh will take place on Sunday from 2.30pm. The pilgrimage across the fields will take a route that medieval pilgrims might have used. It leaves Marlingford Village Hall at 2.30pm and arrive at Bawburgh in time for the 5pm service. It is a walk of 3.5 miles. There will be parking at Bawburgh Church and at Marlingford Village Hall, and walkers should make their own arrangements for the return journey. The route will remain open for return until after the service. As the walk will be over private land, dogs will not be permitted.
Open Air Service on Sunday at 5pm will be led by the Bishop of Norwich and the Catholic Bishop of East Anglia. The congregation will be joined by friends from Our Lady and St. Walstan's Catholic Church in Costessey. The service will be held on the meadow next to the church or indoors if the weather is bad. Please bring your own seats/rugs if needed.
Those interested in taking part in the St Walstan Performance at Bowthorpe in September can contact Danny O’Hara at the Norfolk-based Slow Theatre Company, on 07896 179 833.
Pictured top a plaque of St Walstan located alongside the prayer cell adjacent to Bowthorpe Church.