Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict – Saint Wulfran, Archbishop

illustration of Saint Wulfran, Archbishop, from the book 'Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict', designed by Father Amandus LiebhaberThough it was late in life when Saint Wulfran was clothed as a monk, yet he had from his youth cherished a great love of the Order. Before he became Archbishop of Sens, he had bestowed his ancestral estate of Maurilly on the Monastery of Fontenelle – the monastery which he afterwards joined.

Wulfran’s father was Wulbert, an officer who had distinguished himself in the service of King Dagobert. He was desirous that his son should receive a good education; and as the boy grew up, he devoted himself with great assiduity both to his studies and to works of piety. Having reached manhood, Wulfran was admitted to Holy Orders, and, through his father’s influence, obtained preferment at the Court of King Clothair. Such was the estimation in which he was held, that, on the death of Lambert, Archbishop of Sens, the king and the clergy and people of Sens united in calling on Wulfran to be his successor. Worthily did he discharge the duties of his exalted position. He was moderate as regards food and drink, of grave demeanour, and caring not in the least for pomp; visiting his people, he consoled the afflicted, gave alms to the poor, heard the confessions of the penitent, encouraged the good, and rebuked the wicked. Whatever time remained over from his public duties, he gave to prayer, meditation, and the study of the Scriptures.

One night while praying, he received a command from Heaven to preach the Gospel to the Frisians, who were then blinded by idolatry. Straightway the Archbishop betook himself to Ausbert, who was both Bishop of Rouen and Abbot of Fontenelle, and telling him the order he had received from Above, asked for some monks from Fontenelle to help him in his mission. Ausbert was only too glad to be allowed to assist in a task imposed by Heaven. Accordingly, having chosen twelve monks, Wulfran set sail with them for Friesland.

When they arrived there, they were allowed by King Radbold, though he was addicted to heathen practices, to preach Christianity. Far and wide did Wulfran and his missionaries carry the war against idols. At first the Frisians derided them; but when miracles proved the truth of their preaching, multitudes came to them to be baptized. Among them was the son of Radbold.

It was the custom of the Frisians to offer human sacrifices to their gods on certain festivals. The victim was chosen by lot. Wulfran happened to be giving instruction in a remote part of the town when he saw the unfortunate victim – his name was Ovon – being dragged to the place of sacrifice. Wulfran begged his life of the king; but Radbold’s reply was: “If I were to permit such a violation of our ancestral customs, this crowd, which you see surrounding us, would tear me to pieces. However, if your Christ, of Whose power you are constantly boasting, can save him, let him be yours and Christ’s.” The sacrifice was carried out; but, in answer to the Saint’s prayers, the rope by which the victim was hanging broke, and the body fell from the gibbet and was restored to life. Ovon, who was thus miraculously saved, afterwards became a monk at Fontenelle. Many were the converts made by this miracle; still Radbold remained obstinate.

Six months later, two babes, also chosen by lot, were to be offered up to the god of the sea. Again Wulfran besought the king to spare them, but in vain. The children were exposed where the rising waves would engulf them. The Saint prayed the Almighty for help. It was not refused. The billows, as they advanced, rose like a wall round the victims, leaving a clear dry space where they were unharmed. Then Wulfran dashed into the raging waters, and carried them back to their distracted mother, himself dryshod.

Radbold witnessed this miracle, and was so moved by it, that at last he consented to be baptized. However, as he was about to enter the font, he asked Wulfran whether his ancestors too were in Heaven. When the Saint could not assure him on this point, he said he preferred joining his forefathers to being with Christ and His low fishermen; and he immediately drew back from the font. The opportunity thus lost was not to return. Soon after he was carried off, still an unbeliever.

Meanwhile Wulfran, who during his missionary labours had frequently revisited Fontenelle, retired there lor good, to take the vows as a monk and to prepare for his end. This was not long in coming. He died A.D. 720. Nine years after, his remains, together with those of the holy bishops Wandregesil and Ausbert, were transferred to the Church of Saint Peter at Abbeville.

– text and illustration taken from Saints of the Order of Saint Benedict by Father Aegedius Ranbeck, O.S.B.