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Æthelwold, St

Æthelwold, St (c.908–84). Winchester-born leader of the 10th-cent. reformation, and major influence on King Edgar. Probably a noble, Æthelwold served King Æthelstan, was ordained priest by Bishop Ælfheah of Winchester, became a monk under Dunstan at Glastonbury, and was made, by King Edred, abbot of Abingdon (c.955) and, by Edgar, bishop of Winchester (963). He replaced the clerks of the Old and New Minsters with monks (964), and developed Winchester as a centre of art and learning. One of its products was Ælfric, later his biographer. Æthelwold's Benedictional (collection of blessings), which combined two liturgical traditions, proved very influential. Besides Abingdon, Æthelwold revived the monasteries of Peterborough, Ely, and Thorney, thereby reintroducing monasticism to the Danelaw. He was behind the Regularis concordia, a version of the rule of St Benedict, which he himself translated into English, with additions regulating communal prayer, prescribed by the council of Winchester (c.970) for all English religious houses.

Perhaps the most forceful and austere of the reformers, Æthelwold was a wealthy patron of building, and ruthlessly efficient in acquiring estates. Historical tradition and cults of earlier saints were promoted to buttress his houses' claims, as was the cult of the Virgin. An inspiration was continental practice, especially that at Fleury-sur-Loire. Another was the golden age of monasticism as portrayed by Bede, which may explain Æthelwold's unusual policy that cathedral chapters should be monastic. Heavily involved in politics, he worked closely with Edgar and Queen Ælfthryth. Æthelwold elevated royal authority, for example implying parallels between king and Christ. The popularity of his cult, promoted by his pupil Wulfstan (of Winchester) possibly at his own request, was limited, though his biography was widely circulated until the 15th cent.

A. E. Redgate

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