St Dunstan

Isle of Albion 2019

St Dunstan was the son of Heorstan, a minor Wessex noble. He was born in the village of Baltonsborough, a mere two miles from the abbey precinct, and spent his early years being educated by the monks. As an adult, he spent time with his uncle at the royal court before returning to the abbey to take orders. He feared he had leprosy, and built himself a small cell in which he lived and studied beside the church.

When King Edmund came to the throne, St Dunstan's family connections were to serve him well, and he was called back to court to serve as the royal priest. He clearly gained favour with Edmund, for it was only a short time before he was appointed as abbot of Glastonbury in 943AD.

St Dunstan's tenure as abbot marked a profound upturn in the abbey's fortunes. He undertook a great program of expansion and reform, instituting the Rule of St Benedict, rebuilding the Eastern church, strengthening the boundary wall, commissioning the construction of a new cloister and arranging the drainage of the surrounding marshes.

Following his appointment by King Edgar as Archbishop of Canterbury in 960AD, Dunstan continued to make frequent visits to Glastonbury to oversee and direct the progress of his reform - apparently setting aside his robes of office and living amongst them as an equal. He enjoyed a special relationship with Edgar, with whom he shared a genuine religious zeal. It's even rumoured that he convinced the king to build a palace at nearby Edgarley, which still carries his name. This relationship paid dividends for the abbey when in 965AD, Edgar issued a charter granting it special privileges - echoing the charter of King Ire, which may or may not have pre-dated it:

"In consequence, it seems proper that the church of the most blessed mother of God, the eternal virgin Mary, of Glastonbury, inasmuch as it has always possessed the chief dignity in my kingdom, should be honoured by us with some especial and unusual privilege. Dunstan, therefore, and Oswald, archbishops of Canterbury and York, exhorting thereto, and Brithelm, bishop of Wells, and other bishops, abbots, and chiefs assenting and approving, I, Edgar, by the grace of God, King of the English, and ruler and governor of the adjacent nations, in the name of the blessed Trinity, for the soul of my father who reposes there, and of my predecessors, do by this present privilege decree, appoint, and establish, that the aforesaid monastery and all its possessions shall remain free and exonerated from all payments to the Exchequer now and forever"

"let the same liberty and power also as I have in my own court, as well in forgiving as in punishing, and in every other matter, be possessed by the abbot, and monks of the aforesaid monastery within their court"

By the time of St Dunstan's death in 988AD, Glastonbury was already established as Britain's richest and most splendid abbey and favoured by the kings of England. Edgar was buried there, as were two subsequent Saxon kings. Records from the time show a huge increase in endowments made to the abbey. No less that four of its monks went on to head the English church. More importantly, Edgar's charter had now established Glastonbury as a virtual kingdom in its own right. Its lands and holdings were free from taxation and law was administered by the abbots who ruled as virtual monarchs free from royal constraint. Even the king himself was required to seek permission before entering the abbey's precinct. Glastonbury had risen to a status unparalleled and unique amongst English abbeys.