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Wistan

(850)


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Prince of the royal family of Mercia, murdered 850.

Grandson of Wiglaf, king of Mercia 827–40 and son of Wigmund who died in 839, Wistan was chosen as king in 840 on his grandfather's death, according to his Legend, but asked his mother Elfleda to rule as regent. Berhtric (Brifardus), Wistan's cousin, wished to marry her and seize power, but Wistan refused to allow the marriage, which he regarded as incestuous. Berhtric then murdered him at a place called Wistanstowe (probably Wistow, Leicestershire): three of Wistan's followers fell with him. Wistan's body was buried in the royal monastery of Repton with those of his father and grandfather.

In 1019 Alfwaerd, abbot of Evesham (later bishop of London) asked King Cnut to give him Wistan's relics. From then on Evesham was the centre of the cult. It is of special interest because some of Wistan's miracles were suspected and verified twice over. In Lanfranc's time, his former chaplain, Walter of Cerisy, was abbot of Evesham and subjected Wistan's relics, especially his head, to an ordeal by fire, from which it emerged unscathed. Over a century later, according to Thomas of Marleberge, the supposed miracle of ‘hair’ growing at Wistanstowe on the ground where the martyr fell, each year on his feast day, was verified by a commission sent by Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury. Whatever the substance may have been, there was no doubt of the extraordinary phenomenon. Three ancient church dedications to Wistan are known, including Wistow and Wigston (Leics.). The Shropshire village of Wistanstow has a less convincing claim to be the site of the saint's death. Feast: 1 June.

Chronicon Abbatiae de Evesham (ed. W. D. Macray, R.S., 1863), Appendix; D. J. Bott, ‘The Murder of St Wistan’, Trans. Leics. Arch. Society, xxix (1953), 1–12; P. Grosjean, ‘De Codice hagiographico Gothano’, Anal. Boll., lviii (1940), 90–103; J. C. Jennings, ‘The Writings of prior Dominic of Evesham’, E.H.R., lxxvii (1962), 298–304; E. Gilbert, ‘St Wystan's, Repton’, Cahiers Archéologiques, xvii (1967), 83–102; id., ‘St Wystan's, Repton; its date and significance’, ibid., xxii (1972), 237 ff.; D. Rollason, The Search for St Wigstan (1981).

Subjects: Christianity.


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