The Shepherd, June 2005
SAINT BOTWULF (Botolph) OF ICANHOE
Feast: 17th June; Translation: 1st December
LITTLE is known historically about St Botwulf, who, together with Sts Felix and Fursey, may be regarded as one of the evangelists and fathers of East Anglian monasticism.
According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle he started to build his monastery at a place called Icanhoe [in East Anglia] in 654.
Her Onna cyning wearth ofslaegen; ond Botulf ongon minster timbran aet Icanho. - “Here [in this year] Anna the King was slain; and Botwulf began to timber his monastery at Icanhoe.”
The Vita, or Life, of St Botwulf records that he was trained for holy orders in a monastery where two daughters of an East Anglian king were nuns, the implication seeming to be that this was Chelles Monastery in northern France, and that the daughters in question were those of King Anna [Onna] of the East Angles.
His Life, written in the 11th century by Abbot Folcard of Thorney, records his witness and journeying as an evangelist and monastic founder throughout the kingdom of the East Angles.
St Bede the Venerable makes no mention of St Botwulf, though his spiritual father, St Ceolfrith, is recorded as having visited Botwulf at his monastery c. 670 A.D., having worked for a time as a baker in the monastery.
The anonymous “Life of Ceolfrith” [written c. 716A.D.] cites St Botwulf as “proclaimed on all sides to be a man of unparalleled life and learning, and full of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
Folcard’s Life of the Saint also records that St Botwulf was joined, in later years, by his brother Aldwulf [Adolph] who had been a missionary bishop in north-western Europe.
St Botwulf still has over sixty churches dedicated to him [a large number of them in East Anglia], and seems to have been regarded as a pioneer of monasticism, not only in East Anglia but throughout England itself. He was also widely venerated in Denmark and was regarded as one of the patron saints of travellers including an association with bridges.
Historians and archaeologists are sure, for the most part on the basis of persuasive evidence, that the Icanhoe where he founded his monastery was the modern-day Iken in Suffolk. This church stands on the highest point of a former promontory [maybe once an island also] overlooking the Alde estuary in Suffolk, not far from the likely seat of the Wuffings kings of the East Angles who were, for the main part, staunch defenders and champions of the Orthodox-Christian Faith during those times.
The church at Icanhoe, structurally dating from the 11th century [but with evidence for a much earlier building in close association], contains part of a large carved stone cross-shaft which archaeologists believe may have originally been placed on the site of St Botwulf’s monastery in the 10th century, following the removal of his relics in 970 by Bishop St Aethelwold [the monastery had probably been destroyed during the Danish incursions of the late 9th century].
St Botwulf’s sacred relics were eventually divided and dispersed amongst many monastic houses and churches [including Boston - from whence that settlement was to derive its name - Botwulf’s town: Boston] and specifically Thorney, which occasioned the writing of the Saint’s Life in the early 11th century.
There has already been Orthodox-Church pilgrimage to this sacred place and an icon of St Botwulf adorns the church there.
Folcard's Life of Botwulf is in the process of translation. A canon [based on the Vita] is in preparation. It is hoped that further pilgrimage in honour of the Saint will conducted this Summer.
Father Elias Trefor-Jones