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24 September 2014

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Three Crosses

Three Crosses

The Bishop who fought slavery

St Wulfstan - Bishop of Worcester in Norman times - was a pioneering anti-slavery campaigner.

Wulfstan was born at Long Itchinton in Warwickshire, and was educated in the monastery of Medeshamstead (Peterborough), became himself a monk at Evesham and later at Worcester.

The spelling of his name can cause confusion, as he is also known as Wolstan, Wulstan and Ulfstan .

Still more confusing is his title of Wulfstan II.  This was meant to differentiate him from another Wulfstan, who was Archbishop of York.  Unfortunately this Wulfstan was also known as Wulfstan II – to differentiate him from a previous Archbishop called Wulfstan. As if that wasn’t confusing enough Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York, was the maternal uncle of Wulfstan II, Bishop of Worcester.

Wulfstan became Bishop of Worcester in 1062, and was the only Saxon Bishop allowed to keep his post by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings.

Worcester Cathedral floodlit

Worcester Cathedral floodlit

Social issues

In an age where clergy in general and Bishops in particular could enjoy the good life, Wulfstan was something of a social campaigner. It's said he once invited a host of civic dignitaries to a banquet and then turned up with hundreds of poor people, and insisted that the nobles serve them. He also had a daily ritual of washing the feet of poor people.

He also campaigned vigorously against the slave trade based in the city of Bristol.  At the time people who could not pay their debts were being sold into slavery in Ireland.  Wulfstan spent time in Bristol, preached sermons attacking slavery and eventually slaves held captive in Bristol were released.  At the time slavery wasn’t considered immoral, so his stand was a brave one.

Wulfstan was a great church builder.  He pulled down the church and monastery of St. Oswald at Worcester, which was too small for the growing number of monks, and laid the foundations for a new Cathedral.  All that’s left of the cathedral he built is the Crypt.  He also founded Great Malvern Priory.

Wulfstan died on 19th January 1095 and was buried beside the High Altar in his cathedral.

last updated: 06/02/2008 at 10:44
created: 13/03/2007

You are in: Hereford and Worcester > abolition > The Bishop who fought slavery

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