Today is the feast inter alia of St Dunstan, the tenth century establisher of the English Benedictine tradition as Abbot of Glastonbury and then Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. He died on this day in 988. In my early days as a regular retreatant at Glastonbury I attended the Dunstan millennium pilgrimage there in 1988. There is an account of the life and legacy of this great servant of both church and crown, as well as the legends which grew up around him and a possible self-portrait, at Dunstan.
Smaragdus of St Mihiel, Expositio in regulam S. Benedicti (Canterbury, Christ Church, c.1170–80).
Image: Copyright The British Library Board
Four years ago the British Library Manuscript blog had a post about the various other images of St Dunstan in their collection which can be viewed at An Anglo-Saxon ‘Renaissance Man’: St Dunstan
The one which really caught my eye was this one. It is striking to say the least, and at first glance might suggest that it depicted an Indian deity. It is however twelfth century English work, fifty or so years earlier than the one above but also, it would appear, from Canterbury.
Miniature of St Dunstan enthroned, England (Canterbury?), c.1120, Cotton MS Claudius A. iii, f. 8r.
Image: British Library
The online digitised catalogue entry for Cotton MS Claudius A III, f 8, which is a volume comprising parts of various texts, including portions of several pontificals, is as follows:
Miniature of St Dunstan enthroned
This folio contains a miniature labelled 'Dunstani archiepiscopi'. It depicts a figure (presumably St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury) seated in a building, with two figures kissing his feet and another figure, a monk, kneeling between them. The entire image is framed with an inhabited, foliate border. It was probably made in Canterbury around 1120.Reading that I was a bit surprised that the cataloguer had not pointed out that the figure kissing St Dunstan’s foot on the left is vested as an Archbishop, wearing not only a mitre but, crucially, the pallium. On the basis of the suggested date this could either be Ralph d'Escures, Archbishop 1114-22 or his successor William de Corbeil, Archbishop 1123-36.
The figure of the right might be the Prior of Christ Church, but that might also be the figure on the lower register who is clearly a black monk Benedictine. If so the figure on the right might be the Archdeacon of Canterbury who enforced the rights of the See across the province. In this time of frequent conflict with the province of York and with the King, not to mention Papal equivocations. St Dunstan was just the type of patron a harassed Archbishop of Canterbury might turn to.
Older sources however, and despite the inscription referring to St Dunstan, identify the enthroned central figure as St Gregory the Great sending St Augustine and his companions as missionaries to England in 596/7. In some ways that seems more likely but if that is the case at some early stage the image has been reassigned or misidentified with the addition of the inscription.
I do not know if more research had been done on this single leaf which someone clearly, and fortuitously, thought worth preserving, but it does invite that if it has not been undertaken.
A further thought - is that not a splendid and impressive image of ecclesiastical authority? It is a product of a culture with no problems about hierarchy - well, not in theory, other than when two different theories clashed, and, of course, quite often in practice. Nonetheless it is a spectacular image of authority personified by either St Gregory or St Dunstan.
St Dunstan, pray for us