There is a farm in the valley where I live. When I first moved here in 1996, there was also a dairy farm but now there are only sheep and crops. I like the rural flavour that farms bring. The seasons are portrayed through the jobs: sowing, harvesting, hay stacks, golden fields of wheat and vibrant yellow rapeseed. And where would any of us be without farmers?
30 May is the feast of Saint Walstan (died 1016) who was born either in Bawburgh in Norfolk, or Blythburgh in Suffolk, and because of his life dedicated to farming and the care of farm animals, is the patron saint of farms, farmers, farmhands, farm animals, ranchers and husbandry men.
The story goes that Walstan was the son of a noble family related to to the King of Wessex. He left home at the age of twelve and travelled to Taverham in Norfolk. There he worked as a farm labourer. He had the reputation as a hard worker and also as a compassionate soul. He gave food and clothing to the poor and needy, including his shoes, so was often barefoot. He walked on rose petals so his was always fragrant, so I've heard. Walston was very pious and therefore prayed and fasted a lot. After a while he was able to perform miracles and cured many sick and injured animals. His reputation grew and so did the stories of his miracles so he attracted a lot of followers. He was offered gits all of which he refused or gace away, with the exception of two white calves and a cart. No one knew of his royal connections.
The Danes ruled half of England under King Canute with plans of a total take-over of England. Rumours circulated that Canute wanted the whereabouts of Walstan and anyone harbouring would be punished by death. Walstan confessed his true identity to the landowners for whom he worked, in an attempt to protect them.
Three days later, while he was scything a hay crop, Walstan had a vision of an angel and he died there shortly after. His body was put on the cart and pulled by his two white oxen to his burial site at Bawburgh. The ox stopped three times during the journey and at each resting point, a spring sprung.
By popular demand, he was declared a saint and a small chapel was built off the existing church of St Mary, giving it a new dedication of St Mary and St Walstan. His shrine was visited by many pilgrims as well as local farmers. He became known as saint Walstan the Generous. A real Dark Ages superhero.
Saint Walstan is represented in religious art with a scythe in his hand and cattle near him. Icons dating from before the English Reformation occur mostly in Norfolk and Suffolk, but in modern times his cult has extended to Buckinghamshire, Kent and to Rongai in Kenya, where a church was dedicated to St Walstan in 1988. Well I suppose they have farms in Kenya too.
St Walstan's Day is celebrated each year in Bawburgh when a special Patronal Service takes place on the nearest Sunday to 30 May, his feast date. I would miss the views of the farm by my home, the seasons played out before me, the tranquility of the sheep. So, in honour of Saint Walstan and the farms, I will feast on locally farmed produce and maybe a cup or two of English cider.
Happy Saint Walstan's Day.