And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

torsdag 4. april 2013

Wandragesil, the elusive saint

During the research for my MA degree I spent much time perusing the late 14th-century Westminster Missal in order to map the various liturgical items used in the celebration of Edward the Confessor. The missal in question was commissioned by the abbot of Westminster Nicholas Litlyngton (d.1386), and is often referred to as the Litlyngton Missal. It was published in three volumes by John Wickham Legg in 1891, 1893 and 1897 as a part of the Henry Bradshaw Society series of liturgical material, and it was this tripartite work I was working with. As I spent late evenings charting with which saints Edward the Confessor shared liturgical items, I noticed gradually that there were - unsurprisingly - certain recurring saints. Since liturgy - as is the case with hagiography as well - is a genre in which the various saints draws from the a stock of motifs and topoi according to their saint-type, this is only to be expected. However, it was interesting to see how Edward the Confessor, a virgin saint who died from sickness and old age, shared liturgical items with a large number of clerical saints such as Earconwald and Guthlac. One of these recurring saints was listed as Wandragesil, and to my disappointment I could not find any mention of him in the references I had available. It was not until this Tuesday (April 02 2013) that I finally made the connection I should have made two years ago, and finally realised who exactly Saint Wandragesil really is. This minor blogpost is dedicated to explain this difficulty, perhaps for the benefit of others who may encounter the same problem.

Commemorative medal, taken from this website

After some time spent searching the world wide web and consulting a few publications, it turns out Wandragesil is referred to by a number of similar but slightly different names. This plethora of names constitutes the major obstacle in identifying St. Wandragesil. In the course of my research I've come across the following variants: Wandragesil, Wandregisel (both English), Wandregisil (German), Wandrille (French), Wando (unknown, possibly German) and finally Wandregisilius and Wandregisilus (both Latin). There may very well be other variants I have omitted, and I'm curious to learn what he is known as in Belgium, for instance, where his relics were brought in 944 to save them from Viking raiders.

Wandragesil is a Merovingian saint and lived c.600-68. He was brought up at the court of Dagobert I (623-38) and received monastic education after he separated from his wife in 628 by mutual consent. He was ordained by Bishop Ouen of Rouen (in whose church there is currently a modern stained glass representation of Wandragesil, as seen below), and eventually founded his own monastery at Fontenelle, currently known as Saint-Wandrille.

Stained glass window from the south transept of St.Ouen, from wikimedia

Typologically speaking Wandragesil may qualify as a hermit saint, like Guthlac, because he spent some time in solitude in the Swiss mountains - where he is said to have founded a monastery at Saint-Ursanne - before becoming a priest. However, it is as abbot he is best remembered and the major centre of his cult is precisely at Fontenelle, which became a flourishing Benedictine abbey sometime after his death.

During the Viking attacks in the 9th and 10th centuries his relics were brought to other churches, and, as stated, in 944 they came to Ghent. It was from here the cult and feast of Wandragesil were introduced to England, and before the Norman conquest Wandragesil was celebrated in Southern England. Fontenelle Abbey even had three cells in England - the most important of which were Ecclesfield in South Yorkshire and Upavon in Wiltshire - and his feastday of July 22 is included in several of the English liturgical uses. To my knowledge there is insufficient research done on the cult of Wandragesil in England, but it is interesting to note that he was celebrated at important liturgical centres such as York, Hereford and Westminster (each pracitising its own use), and as the Litlyngton Missal indicates, this celebration persisted into the late 14th century. Furthermore, the available liturgical evidence also suggest stability, as his feast features in an early 13th-century antiphoner of the WorcesterUse, a 13th-century antiphoner of the Sarum Use from Barnwell and an early 14th-century antiphoner from a non-monastic Welsh church, also following the Sarum Use.

This is only a brief overview of the cult of St. Wandragesil - or whichever of his many names you prefer - and I hope in due course a more comprehensive study of his cult will be undertaken. For now I'll settle for this brief glimpse into a fragment from the medieval sanctorale with the hope that it may solve the difficulties pertaining to his plethora of names.

ReferencesFarmer, David, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 2004

Harvey, Barbara F., ‘Litlyngton , Nicholas (b. before 1315, d. 1386)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 3 April 2013]

Legg, John Wickham, Missale Westmonasteriensis, in three volumes (1891, 1893 and 1897)

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