The road to archbishopification is a long and hard one; in fact, it is a lot like the movie Rocky only with more mud and running sores; also because it was the Middle Ages, Burgess Meredith wouldn’t be born for another hundred years. Some men became archbishop because they are in the right place and at the right time. Others were in the right place but showed up too early and either had to wait or go to a different right place and pay more attention to what time it was. Some got by on pure charisma, much like modern-day avatar, Captain Kangaroo. Saint Dunstan got there the hard way… through sheer force of will and essence of slacks.
Dunstan was born near Glastonbury in 909 to nobleman Heostan of Wessex and Cynethryth, who was probably just as noble but lacked the lands and penis required to be a nobleman. It is said that, on Candleday, all candles in the church were extinguished except that of Cynethryth’s. Everyone then relit their candles from hers indicating that her son would become a “minister of light” to England’s church and that there was a draft blowing through the church that needed attending to. It was this kind of subtext that made life worth living in the Middle Ages.
Dunstan studied under Irish monks in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. He joined the church because having a bald spot shaved into his head was just the kind of thing he was into. Because Dunstan was such an apt pupil, he was summoned to serve the Archbishop of Canterbury. It didn’t hurt that the Archbishop was also Dunstan’s uncle, Athelm. Later, he joined the court of King Aethelstan. Envious courtiers accused the young man of witchcraft and, because he weighed the same as a duck, he was evicted from the palace, thrown into a cesspool and beaten like a common egg. He managed to crawl to a friend’s house and recover, probably in the most remote room of the household until they got him to a tub.
The young man journeyed to Winchester, where having a bishop that wasn’t Dunstan’s uncle wasn’t a big problem. While considering a livelihood in the service of the church, he experienced his first miracle. He was stricken with running sores and was at death’s door or at least as far as death’s mailbox. But, he recovered. Recovering from ANY ailment was considered a miracle in the dark ages as was finding food without mud and feces all over it. Dunstan became a hermit monk and built himself a small cell in St Mary’s of Glastonbury. It was there that he was tempted by the Devil.
Well, maybe NOT the Devil… Historians argue that it could’ve been just a woman who happened to have hooves and leathery bat-like wings. Either way, Dunstan was tempted to break his vows of celibacy and his vow not to let hooved women into his cell after nine o’clock. Supposedly, after Satan revealed himself, Dunstan grabbed his nose with red hot tongs. This may seem far-fetched to you, but Woody Woodpecker did the same thing to a cartoon fox and he’s just as real as you or I…
Now, Dunstan may have been on King Aethelstan’s “Do Not Resuscitate” list, but Aethelstan’s niece was dedicated to the young man. She made him a trusted adviser and an heir to a small fortune. It was King Edmund (Aethelstan’s successor) who brought Dunstan back into the fold: While hunting deer near Cheddar, Edmund saw the stag he was chasing leap off a cliff to his death, followed by his unusually-focused hounds. Apparently, Aethelstan’s life flashed before Edmund’s eyes and he promised God he would make amends to Dunstan, if he lived; moreover, he’s stop leaving raw potatoes as a tip for the mailman every Christmas. Well, his mount stopped just in time which is definitely a miracle because horses are pretty stupid.
Edmund made Dunstan the Abbot of Glastonbury. Being made Abbot of a big pile of rocks isn’t the greatest honor one can receive; however, it sure beats being stomped half to death in a cesspool. The abbey became a respected school under Dunstan and dudnder Unstan. Two years later, Edmund died and was replaced by Eadred, who didn’t even have to change the monogram on the towels. Fortunately, Eadred had no problems with Dunstan and there were two attempts to make him a bishop. He refused because he did not like the idea of moving diagonally for the rest of his life.
Eadred, like most human beings, died, leaving his oldest son Eadwig to ascend the throne. Dunstan took special care not to get on the new monarch’s bad side; so, on the day of his coronation, Dunstan dragged Eadwig to a meeting he’d been avoiding and called the woman he was with a “ho”. Coincidentally, this marked the first day of Dunstan’s fleeing the country. He ended up in Flanders. In less than two years, civil war had broken out and Dunstan was invited back to the good half of Britain by Eadwig’s brother, Edgar. Edgar appointed Dunstan to multiple sees just to rub it in. Eadwig, on the other hand, having reached his eighteenth year, died of old age. Britain reunited and they were forced to eat Robin’s minstrels… and there was much rejoicing.
In 960, Dunstan went to Rome and received pallium from Pope John the Twelfth… and Dunstan was a man who liked his pallium. He was now the Archbishop of Canterbury, although I’m not sure if “was now” doesn’t simply negate itself as a phrase. He was responsible for some of the more visible appointments of the time. And, a bishop here, a see there and things start to add up. Edgar was pleased with his archbishop. He ruled for sixteen years before dying of something probably horrific and gross. His son, Edward, ruled for a few years until someone gently assassinated him. So… new king… Aethelred…
Not wanting to make the same mistake he made with Eadwig, Dunstan decided to get on Aethelred’s good side by condemning his ascension to the throne and prophesying his ultimate doom. Wisely, Dunstan then decided to retire from public office in order to teach others diplomacy. In 988, after receiving Extreme Unction and Viaticum, Dunstan died.
Three decades later, he was canonized and became the patron saint of silversmiths. Fortunately, there was already a patron saint for people who’d been beaten up in cesspools…