Feast of Saint Wulfric by A.J. Sefton.
20 February is my birthday. These days they are pretty low-key. Always have been actually, except when I was twenty-one. I will get lots of cups of tea made for me, gifts, of course, a meal out (this year I believe it will be Italian) and a trip to the cinema. When my daughter was small we always went to see the special family film that always came out during the February half-term. There is cake – it is the law after all – and usually chocolate and a big breakfast. Fortunately I only have one birthday a year. I’m not the queen, you know.
It is also the feast day of Saint Wulfric. He was a priest who undoubtedly enjoyed himself in the early days. Wulfric was partial to the finer things in life. Not chocolate, as it hadn’t been discovered during the Dark Ages, but he was very materialistic and liked nothing better than to spend the day hunting with hawks and dogs. Addicted even, some would say. He was also thought to be worldly. As a priest in the early Christian Church in the twelfth century, this was not a good thing. Hints of immoral women and other such sins. I bet he knew how to celebrate his birthday if Anglo-Saxons had birthdays.
Then, one day, Wulfric came across a beggar. It must have been the first time he had ever done so because the meeting totally changed him. Whatever the beggar said made Wulfric go back to the place he was born, Compton Martin in modern day Somerset. Once there, he gave himself to his holy duty and lived a suitable lifestyle as parish priest.
In 1125 he moved to Halesbury and began a life as a hermit. Wulfric lived in a very basic cell off the side of the church, which faced north so must have been cold and dark most of the time. Here there were no luxuries from his previous life. He ate only the minimal amount of food to keep him alive, no meat and definitely no cake. He fasted a lot, prayed, read the Bible, wore hair shirts and heavy chain mail. Probably beat himself regularly, too.
All of this reformed behaviour gained Wulfric a certain amount of respect from quite influential people. News undoubtedly spread when his skills included the gift of prophecy and healing. There were stories of miracles. Wulfric could cure anything on the mind, body or spirit. Sir William Fitzwalter used to send him parcels of essentials and he had visits from locals wanting advice as well as blessings. Eventually the visitors included royalty in the form of King Henry I and King Stephen.
Wulfric’s authority was impressive. He told Henry that he was about to die, which he did. Stephen was told off for the evil goings-on in his government and took note. He was the celebrity of his day.
He lived in his dark cell for twenty-nine years. There was the occasional bath in cold water but no dressing up. He died in 1154 on 20 February, and a fight broke out. Everyone wanted his remains as his relics would have brought fortune in both spiritual and fiscal ways. In the end the locals won and buried him in his cell. However, he did not rest in peace. Twice his remains were removed for security reasons and he is buried somewhere known only to himself and God.
Pilgrims visited his tomb in the grounds of the church where he served as a priest, hoping that some of his healing powers still remained.
As for me, I know that my birthday feast will be much better than Wulfric’s. At least I will be going out.
© 2015 A.J. Sefton http://www.ajsefton.com