Monday, March 05, 2007

The martyrdom of St Wystan

In his biography of W. H. Auden, Humphrey Carpenter writes:
His elder brothers were called Bernard and John. By contrast his own first name, Wystan, was exotic; but it reflected one of his father's great interests in life. George Auden was a doctor of medicine by profession, but he was also widely read in many other fields, among them Saxon and Norse antiquities. 
This was partly the result of his having been educated at Repton school in Derbyshire, for the parish church there has a particularly fine Saxon crypt which attracted his attention when he was young. The church is dedicated to St Wystan, a Mercian prince who was murdered in the year 849 after he had objected to the uncanonical marriage of his widowed mother to his uncle - "a rather Hamlet-like story," remarked Wystan Auden. 
The story of St Wystan is recorded in a Little Guide to Shropshire, under the entry for Wistanstow, the place in the county where he was martyred. The author of the Little Guide was Wystan Auden's uncle, the Rev. J. E. Auden, and Wystan carefully preserved his own copy of it. He was very possessive about his first name; he said he would be "furious" if he met another Wystan.
Wistanstow is a charming village, not least because it is the home of The Wood Brewery and its tap, The Plough Inn. But Wistow in Leicestershire also claim to be the site of St Wystan's martyrdom - and the site of the miraculous growth of golden hair from his grave that first proved his saintliness. And I have always understood that it has the stronger claim: when the Church appointed a commission to investigate the claimed miracle, its members all came from the East Midlands.

So it was a surprise to read this in the Daily Telegraph review of Mick Sharp's book The Way and the Light: An Illustrated Guide to the Saints and Holy Places of Britain:
The churchyard at Wistow in Cambridgeshire, for instance, is the likely location of the 9th-century martyrdom of St Wystan. Each year on his feast day, human hair was said to grow through the churchyard grass. "But when I visited shortly after his feast," writes Sharp coyly, "the grass was neatly mown."
So three places claim to be the site of Wystan's martyrdom. Unless, of course, you know of any more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info (googled) with which I was able to update a coupe wikipedia pages

Happy St Wystan's day!

Mrs Clare Krishan Philadelphia USA