Posted by: anna | December 14, 2009

St Botolph

Icon image from Eleni’s Icons, by the hand of Helen McIldowie-Jenkins.

Today we commemorate the translation of St. Botolph, of Boston (England), abbot and confessor (680). The Rev Dr Baring-Gould has more to say about the doubtfulness of the sources for St Botolph’s life than about the life itself:

‘S. BOTULPH, AB. (a.d. 655.) [Roman, Benedictine, and Anglican Martyrologies, [York, but not Sarum Kalendar.] also Schleswig Breviary, Scandinavian runic Kalendar. Authorities : Mention by John of Brompton, Matthew of Westminster, Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, &c. Also a life of very unequal value. It consists of a fragment written by some one who received information from the disciples of S. Botulph. To this a writer after 972 added a part of his own to supply the deficiency. But his addition is characterized by gross inaccuracy. He makes the Saxons before the invasion of Britain to have been Christians, and to have sent their sons into monasteries. He also makes S. Adulph, bishop of Utrecht, and the brother of S. Botulph, appointed to that see by the king. If he means King Pepin, the father of Charlemagne, he is wrong, for Pepin had no authority in that part, which was governed by the heathen Radbod, Duke of Frisia. Moreover, that see was not founded till 696, by S. Willibrord, who died in 739. The origin of the blunder arises from the bodies of S. Botulph and S- Adulph being translated together in 972, and these two saints being venerated the same day, like S . Medard and S. Godard, they were supposed to be brothers. No bishop of the name of Adulph is known in the chronicles of the church of Utrecht. The writer may have mistaken Utrecht for Maestricht (Ultra-trajectum for Trajectum), which was founded much earlier, but no bishop of the name of Adulph occupied that see. In addition to this life of such mixed historical value is another, very short, from the Schleswig Breviary, and also a life by Folcard, abbot of Thorney in 1068.]

‘Nothing authentic is known of the origin of S. Botulph. He is said to have been of Irish birth, but his name is purely Saxon. He asked Ethelmund, king of the South Saxons, and his kinsmen Ethelwerd and Ethelwold, to give him some desert spot in which he might settle as a hermit. “Then the unwearied man of God looked about him everywhere, till at last he found, by the mercy of God, such a spot, Ikanhoe, which was just the God-forsaken, devil-possessed spot he was in search of.” And a dismal spot it was in the most dismal district of all England, Boston in the Lincolnshire fens ; it was a “hoe,” a mound, covered with trees, girdled with rushes, in a vast stagnant morass, the haunt of wild fowl. (There is a difficulty. Ethelmund did not reign in Lincolnshire- But there was a king Ethelwold of the East Saxons. Ikanhoe is thought by some to have been in Kent, but there can be little doubt that it was Boston. S. Botolph seems to have been given a roving commission to go where he liked, and take any ” inculta terra” he pleased in their domains; and it is not said that Ikanhoe was in those of Ethelmund.) There he dwelt and founded an abbey, and there he spent a life singularly barren of interesting events. He was beloved by all who came near him, on account of his humility, gentleness, and affability. He died the same year as S. Hilda, in 655. It is impossible to give more details concerning a saint of whom so little that is trustworthy or interesting is known.’


Which is quite a lot to say about very little. So many of the saints’ lives are remarkable for their ecclesial/political achievements, great missionary travels and accomplishments, influence over temporal rulers (or indeed in the case of rulers, whole nations) or brave and hideous martyrdoms. But most of us live lives more or less barren of that sort of interesting event, and it is no less remarkable to be loved by all who know us for our humility, gentleness and affability. This is a good example of faithfulness in stability – blooming where you are planted.’ I have occasional sentimental thoughts about reunions of people in heaven, and I am sure St Botolph’s welcome into the pearly gates must have been an especially warm and affectionate one.


I can’t find a troparion, but here is a sticheron from the above service:

Sticheron for St Botolph, Tone 1
Neither the fowls of the air, nor the cares of life, nor the deceitfulness of riches, could harm the good seed sown in thy heart, O Father Botolph. Thou didst bring forth a hundredfold, and thou becamest a great and spreading tree for thy brethren. Wherefore, give us rest in the shade of thy branches, that we might not faint under the burden and heat of the day; shelter our hierarchs from every wind of false doctrine; protect those dwelling in the city named for thee; and intercede with Christ that our souls be saved.

Holy St Botolph, pray to God for us.

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