Today is 19th May. Saint Dunstan’s Day, and I’m following his footsteps back in time to discover this legend…. This is an old story, a Somerset story. It’s about a young boy who had a dream ….
Long ago, over a thousand years to be exact, deep in the Mendips and in the ancient village of Ballsbury there lived a beautiful baby boy whose name was Dunstan.
His father was a nobleman and his mother a woman of sweet affection and gentle ways. Dunstan grew into a happy, playful child and wherever he went, he spread warmth and delight with his sparkling blue eyes and bouncing golden curls.
From a tender age he knew what he wanted and so with his parent’s consent, Dunstan’s head was partially shaved, and he went to live amidst Glastonbury’s ruins under the guidance of Irish monks.
Soon Dunstan was mastering his studies whilst fostering eager dreams of restoring the abbey. Most thought his youthful optimism would come to nothing but in the years to follow Dunstan’s devotions blossomed. Not only did he become a master silversmith, musician and artist but it was there, amongst the abbey’s remains that his heart found a meeting place.
Dunstan’s fame spread throughout the land, and it wasn’t long before the young monk was summoned to the royal court where he quickly became a trusted favourite of Athelstan. Athelstan was king; the first Anglo Saxon monarch of the whole of England and King Alfred’s grandson.
But there were some whose hearts grew dark and heavy in the shadows. They hated Dunstan’s popularity and soon their jealous whispers reached the ears of Athelstan where they planted seeds of treachery, wickedness and deception.
And so under the king’s orders, one autumn night as Dunstan returned from his evening walk he was seized and thrown from Court. Beyond the palace gates, his enemies were waiting.
With an ugly roar the mob set upon Dunstan. Their angry bellows and clenched fists filled the quiet night as blow by blow they battered Dunstan until he was bleeding and barely conscious. Then he was picked up, thrown into a cesspool and left to die.
Somehow Dunstan managed to crawl from that stinking hole to the house of a friend. After a miraculous recovery, that is a tale unto itself, Dunstan journeyed on until he arrived into the service of his uncle, the Bishop of Winchester.
Dunstan never saw King Athelstan again. It was only after the king’s death that Dunstan was summoned once more to the royal court – this time to Cheddar to be in service to the new king, Edmund.
Once again Dunstan’s increasing popularity inspired hatred and envy. More plots were hatched and once more Dunstan’s enemies looked to have succeeded.
The next day the king ordered Dunstan’s exile. Unsettled by the rumours he had heard Edmund was angry and upset. Feeling like a fool for trusting Dunstan he stormed from the palace and ordered his attendants to join him for a hunt. And so it was, mounted on his favourite horse, the hot headed king led the chase deep into Mendip’s misty forest. Edmund did not care what game was flushed from the undergrowth until he saw the recognisable shape of a stag standing out against the soft afternoon light.
Charging after the noble beast Edmund’s attendants were soon left behind as his horse and hounds galloped at full speed towards the cliff edge. Blinded by his fury, Edmund could not see the danger ahead as he rode hard, driving his quarry before him. The stag rushed blindly over the vertical cliff followed by the hounds who hurtled headlong after it dropping like heavy stones into the empty darkness of the silent gorge.
As the ground opened up before him and believing death was imminent, Edmund suddenly remembered his dear friend and trusted advisor Dunstan. Pulling hard on the reins to stop, the king closed his eyes, “I promise to make amends if I am saved.”
Edmund kept his promise. After a shaky ride back to the palace, Dunstan was summoned and the two friends were reunited.
The following day they rode to Glastonbury. The king led Dunstan to the abbot’s throne, knelt before him and kissed his hand.
Now, Abbot of Glastonbury, Dunstan set to work on the abbey’s ruins. At last his youthful dreams would begin to come true.