On this day: St. Dunstan

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Dunstan, "an Anglo-Saxon churchman in England in the tenth century, who began as a monk. He began as a youngster as a monk in the Abbey of Glastonbury, and progressed because of his zeal and learning and ability, eventually to become not only Bishop of London and Bishop of Worchester, but finally Archbishop of Canterbury. He also became a great friend of the King, and was sometimes entrusted with royal powers when the King would be out of the country or perhaps out fishing. But in any case, Dunstan was formidable. He was a statesman. He was an artist. He drew beautifully in the style of his day. He was a worker in metals. He did black smithing. He cast bells. He built organs. He was an engineer and understood architecture. He was a Renaissance man."

--from a 2001 Lecture by Rowan LeCompte, the great stained glass artist who created many of the windows in the National Cathedral, including the west rose window.

The first window LeCompte made for the Cathedral, at the age of 16, was of St. Dunstan, which is in St. Dunstan's Chapel, beneath the south transept stairs.

"There is weightiness in LeCompte's work. And wit and whimsy. Tucked away on a dark-staired turret is a little jewel representing a passage from the Book of Revelation: A wild, windblown woman with flowing blond locks reaches heavenward toward a swirl of color. In her arms she holds a tiny child, placid in the turbulence. In a 1984 nave window representing prophecy, LeCompte tossed in a white-tied, lavender-suited, Bible-thumping televangelist. And in one at the high altar illustrating Jesus' childhood, LeCompte's face of Joseph is actually a self-portrait."

See "Artist's Passion Shines Through National Cathedral's Windows", by Linton Weeks.

St. Dunstan is venerated in the Orthodox Christian Church, as well as in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

One Anglican, Charles Dickens, did not revere Dunstan. Click here to read his unfavorable description of the saint in A Child's History of England, pages 26-31.

Dickens refers to St. Dunstan in A Christmas Carol. Dunstan used his blacksmith's tongs to grab the devil by the nose and make him holler, and Dickens brings that famous incident into his description of Christmas Eve, just before Scrooge closes his counting house and allows Bob Cratchit to go home.

"Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit's nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose."

For more about Rowan LeCompte, see "Splendor in the Glass", by Julia Duin.

Click here for the Wikipedia article on St. Dunstan and here for the Catholic Encyclopedia article.

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