We live in a celebrity culture, there’s no doubt about that.
Reality TV stars, ‘influencers’ on social media, icons of fashion and music and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ in everything from keep fit and nutrition to commenting on other people’s lifestyles and television programmes. It seems we can’t move for ‘celebrities’ and, of course, through the media – TV, the online world and particularly social media – their fame spreads fast and wide. Although some reputations last down the years, invariably the fame and celebrity of many of those in the public eye doesn’t last that long - adoring fans are prone to move on to other ‘celebrity crushes’, seemingly on a whim.
But this ‘celebrity culture’ is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century.
Almost from the beginning of time, I would suggest, humans have wanted to have ‘celebrities’ in their lives. People they can look up to, people they can aspire to be, people who they can copy, people who they can ‘adore’, if you like.
Of course, the reasons why individuals are favoured and admired change with the times and it's interesting to note that in the past many of the ‘celebrities’ were religious people – alive and dead!
Today is January 19th and in the church it’s the now little-known Feast of St Wulfstan.
Never heard of him ? No, me neither.
But back in Anglo Saxon times he was HUGE!
And part of the reason for that is that he was a survivor!
If you know your English history, you’ll know that something big happened in 1066. The Normans under William the Conqueror invaded the country and took over. The Anglo Saxons were out. Many or most of the kings and leaders lost their lives, or at least their positions, lands and power. And that included the church men.
Ok – so that’s a very simplistic telling of history, but it’s the basic story.
But remember what I said about this chap Wulfstan? He was an ‘Anglo Saxon’ and, much against the odds, he survived the transition.
Wulfstan had been appointed Bishop of Worcester in England in 1062 so he was one of the leaders of the Anglo Saxon church at the time of the Norman conquest just four years later.
Very unusually, he was the only Anglo Saxon churchman to keep his position under the new regime and he continued to serve for another 30 years until his death, actually on Jan 20 1095.
The new King William himself had noted Wulfstan’s importance in his diocese and during his lifetime the Bishop was much admired especially within the church and by the new regime. At one point he even managed to help prevent an high level insurrection against William the Conqueror.
Wulfstan was buried in Worcester Cathedral … one of his big projects was the rebuilding of the site, demolishing the old Anglo Saxon church and building the new Norman cathedral. But Wulfstan also help to re-build Hereford Cathedral, Tewkesbury Abbey, and many other churches in the Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester areas.
And if you think Wulfstan was popular in his lifetime, that was nothing compared to his reputation once he was dead. People started reporting that when they visited his tomb, there were miraculous cures. And these supernatural and spiritual experiences led, in 1203, to his canonisation. He was made ‘Saint Wulfstan’
During the Middle Ages especially, Wulfstan was a very popular saint and King John, who ruled from 1199 until his death in 1216, thought so much of him that he asked to be buried close to Wulfstan - he was buried in Worcester Cathedral in front of the altar of St Wulfstan.
The saint's reputation persisted across the decades and in fact, he continued to be a popular saint for many centuries. Pilgrimages in his name to Worcester continued until the turn of the 18th century. HIS celebrity was far from fleeting!
These days few of us, especially outside the church, have heard of him, and his ‘Feast Day’ on January 19th every year is almost completely ignored today, apart from at Worcester.
Wulfstan was a lowly monk who rose through the ranks to the top job and managed to hang on, despite the cultural and political turmoil than came with the Norman Conquest.
His reputation survived strongly for at least 700 years, and … well I’m talking about him today … so he is still remembered. Perhaps it was because he was known for more than his personal achievements (like the rebuilding of Cathedrals) and it was his spiritual legacy that persisted.
Question – I wonder where the ‘celebrities’ of today will stand in the history of mankind? I wonder if those who today are applauded, and rewarded, for their antics on reality tv, their wealth, appearance and fashion sense, even those who are known for ‘helping’ the world through online ‘self-help’ videos, will be remembered even into the next decade? Let alone the next millennium?
I think I know the answer!