Saint Wulfstan and Thomas the fighter

Just when you thought hagiography may not be a successful cure for ennui, it strikes you in the face and you hit the floor in laughter.

Annales Monastici, ed. H.R. Luard (Rolls Series, 1869), vol. 4, pp. 513-4

Per Sanctum Wlstanum suscitatus fuit puer de Pettone defunctus; et pugil nomine Thomas de Eldesfed exoculatus et ementulatus in duello in prato de Kingesham juxta prioratum Wygorniae oculos recepit et virilia miraculose per merita gloriosi pontificis Wlstani, et postea suscepit habitum in hospitali praedicti sancti, et honorifice ibi diu vixit. Unde versus de eo: sexu privatus fit vir; videt exoculatus.

 

The story involves Saint Wulfstan and a very lucky fighter named Thomas of Eldesfed and is drawn from the thirteenth century Annals of Worcester. In the summer of 1221, wondrous things were going on around the village of Dodderhill, Worcestershire, where the church had just been dedicated. Itinerant judges had just led an inquiry into some local affairs so the area was filled with important people. At some point a fighter (the Latin word for it is pugil which is something like a professional wrestler who acted as champion in the ordeal of legal disputes) whose identity I am unable to establish beyond his toponymic name (Eldesfed does not appear in any other sources) – lost his eyesight and his penis in a judicial duel in the meadow of Kingsham, near the priory of Worcester. We know that a meadow named Kingsham near Henwick had been granted to the church of Worcester by king Edgar sometime between 961 and 975. There’s a golf course today on the site of the old meadow just a mile away from Worcester cathedral.

It is unclear whether only one or both of Thomas’ eyes were damaged but he certainly had his penis cut off in the fight. The annalist speaks of his becoming emasculated by the loss of his virilia. Now it’s always salutary to have a saint around and in Thomas’ case it wasn’t just any saint but Saint Wulfstan, the 11th century bishop of Worcester (b. 1008-d. 1095) who came to the moribund’s rescue. It was a miraculous healing but it did go down in the local hospital which had been founded by the same Wulfstan back in the eleventh century.

Finally, the annalist is careful to note that not only had Thomas his body parts reattached as a result of Wulfstan’s intercession but he was even able to use them honourably, to the best of his ability. His health was fully restored in such a way that he lived long thereafter.

 

 

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