Runes on the Cross

Runes on the Cross

How did the heathen warriors of the one-eyed god Woden become founders of the English Church? Did their inspiration come from Augustine’s Roman mission to Canterbury or Aidan’s Celtic abbey on Lindisfarne? And how did we come to have Viking archbishops at Canterbury and York?

The centuries before the Norman Conquest are rich with stories of these pioneering men and women. Intrepid nuns and monks spread their influence into mainland Europe, where their names are still honoured: Boniface, his protégé Leoba “the Beloved”, the brothers Willibald and Wynnebald and their sister Walburg.

There were kings who played a pivotal role: Oswy of Northumberland, who gave Aidan the island of Lindisfarne to be an English Iona, and Alfred the Great, that whirlwind of creative energy, who divided his time between the secular and the spiritual, and had a profound effect on his kingdom.

We see their vision of Christ as the Hero Warrior.


Wulfstan of Worcester

(Wulfstan was the last English bishop after the Norman Conquest. He had to work with the Norman Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc.)

Wulfstan had a refreshing interpretation of his role as spiritual adviser to the rich. He got so tired of one noblewoman wasting his time with her outpourings of religiosity that he boxed her ears.

The story of his confrontation with Lanfranc at the council of Westminster may be exaggerated, but it rings true in spirit. Wulfstan was one of those accused of sedition after the uprising against the Normans. The proceedings were in French, which he did not speak. He was given time to prepare his defence but, to the dismay of his supporters, spent it in saying the canonical office due at that hour. Lanfranc ordered him to hand over his episcopal ring and staff. Through the interpreter, Wulfstan retorted that he had never thought himself worthy to bear them, but since they had been given to him by King Edward, he would return them to him only. He stuck his staff between the stones of Edward’s tomb, took off his ring and sat down. No Norman, it was said, could remove the staff. Lanfranc confirmed Wulfstan in his post.

Wulfstan proved loyal to William and Lanfranc, but his social conscience continued unabated. He visited the port of Bristol, which even then was a slave port, and attacked the slave trade. He pleaded with the dealers and preached against their harsh treatment of slaves. He got Lanfranc on his side. They persuaded the king to withdraw his approval, though it meant a loss of royal revenue. Slavery decreased under William.