(Monk's hood, Aconitum
today's plant, dedicated to St Dunstan,
day this is.)
He is the
patron saint of goldsmiths, and himself worked as a
jeweller. His patronage also includes
armourers, blacksmiths, blind people,
gold workers, jewellers, lighthouse keepers, locksmiths, musicians, silver workers, silversmiths and swordsmiths.
Dunstan was a highly
intelligent nobleman whose parents incited him to study hard, and he
acquired 'brain fever'. Though his friends gave him up for dead, in
his delirium he climbed into a locked church at night and the next day was
found asleep there, apparently miraculously cured.
Born in King
Arthur's 'isle' of Glastonbury (Avalon), England, he
became abbot there in 945, and
the abbey flourished under his administration, with a substantial extension of
the irrigation system on the surrounding Somerset Levels. At the court of King Athelstan (c.
- 939), he was a favourite with the ladies, who took his advice on
embroidery. Once, he was embroidering with Lady Ethelwyne, when his
unattended harp began playing by itself. Banished from the court for
witchcraft, he returned to Glastonbury and established the Benedictine
rule throughout English monasteries.
Following the accession of King Edwy of England, he became less influential
and went overseas to Flanders. Despite
this tenth-century saint's prestige as the initiator of Benedictine
rule, he was banished when he offended the sixteen-year-old King. Dunstan
heard the Devil laughing and told him to contain his joy as it wouldn't
According to one legend, the feud with Dunstan began
on the day of Edwy's consecration, when he failed to attend a meeting of
nobles. When Dunstan eventually found the young monarch, he was cavorting
with a noblewoman named Ethelgive and refused to return with the bishop.
Infuriated by this, Dunstan dragged Edwy back and forced him to renounce
the girl as a "strumpet." Later realizing that he had provoked
the king, Dunstan fled to the apparent sanctuary of his cloister, but Edwy,
incited by Ethelgive, followed him and plundered the monastery. Though
Dunstan managed to escape, he refused to return to England until after
On his return, in 957, he imported Benedictine
customs, becoming bishop of Worcester and London in 959. In 961, Edgar made St
Dunstan Archbishop of Canterbury, from which position he, rather than the
king, virtually ruled England. His innovations in Britain included the
standardising of measures and the establishment of regular justice
crowned Edgar in 973,
he performed the same service for his successor, Edward the Martyr, and later for
II (Ethelred the Unready). The service is
still used as the basis for contemporary British
coronations. He died in 988 and was canonized in 1029.
St Dunstan and the pegs
St Dunstan introduced
to England a practice to prevent fights among drinkers. He ordered that
ale tankards be fitted with pegs marking equal intervals, so that when
more than one drank from the same cup they would drink equal amounts.
Hence the expression "I am a peg too low".
St Dunstan's tongs
Dunstan was famed for his cunning in dealing with
Satan. In one celebrated incident, he used a red-hot pair of tongs to
pinch the nose of the Devil when he tried to tempt him in the form of a
girl. For many years the tongs were on display at Mayfield, England. From this tale, tongs have become
a symbol of St Dunstan and are featured in the arms of Tower
Another story relates how Dunstan nailed a horseshoe
to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to reshoe the Devil's horse. The
Devil was only allowed to go once he had promised never to enter a place
where a horseshoe is over the door. This is claimed by some as the origin
of the lucky horseshoe.