Wulfstan conference announced in Worcester

15th February 2023

His power influenced Kings, he was a law-maker and he combatted Viking invasions and ensured the safety and stability of Worcester during one of the most turbulent periods in English history.

Wulfstan: law maker, preacher, innovator: His life uncovered to mark the 1,000 anniversary of his death.

This year marks the 1000th anniversary of the death of Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester (1002-16), Archbishop of York (1002-23) and revered uncle of St Wulfstan (1062-95).

Leading academics will explore the life of this important and powerful bishop at a two day conference at Worcester Cathedral next month to mark this anniversary .

Wulfstan was one of the most powerful bishops in the history of Worcester Cathedral, and left his mark on its library, lands and diocese.

Wulfstan conference announced in Worcester

He was a major player in the turbulent politics of the reign of King Æthelred the Unready, influencing the King’s policy in combatting the Viking attacks which eventually overwhelmed the Kingdom.

Under the conquering King Cnut, Wulfstan continued to guide national policy. He composed law codes for both kings and was a legislative innovator, protecting English rights.

As a bishop, he was a reformer and preacher. Writing around the year 1000, Wulfstan’s preaching is notable for its hellfire warnings of the imminence of the End of the World.

His staunch defence of the diocese against Viking invaders, greedy aristocrats and grasping kings ensured Worcester’s safety and stability during one of the most dramatic periods in English history.

This two-day conference on March 24th and 25th features eight internationally-known scholars who will speak about Wulfstan’s life, writings, political influence, and the crucial role he played in the early history of Worcester.

Throughout the conference attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions and join in discussions with the speakers.

Speaker, Prof Andrew Rabin, University of Louisville, USA, said:

“It’s difficult to overstate Archbishop Wulfstan’s importance to the history of English law, the English church, and English national identity. He was a visionary social thinker whose works provide influential formulations of many of the values still central to modern society, including forceful arguments for the importance of ethical governance, the need for checks on royal power, and the notion that a just society rests on the well-being of all its members, not simply the wealthiest or most powerful. In a chaotic age, he was the most accomplished prose stylist of his generation, the most influential royal advisor to Kings Æthelred and Cnut, and the most powerful leader of the early eleventh-century English Church. Although many today don’t know his name, the world he created is still very much a part of the one in which we live.”

Prof Katy Cubitt, University of East Anglia, added:

“For me, the conference is an exciting opportunity to communicate the importance of Archbishop Wulfstan; a man who not only transformed the politics of his day, but also whose writings have shaped our understanding of the period. Wulfstan lived at a time of the greatest stress, when the Viking raids devastating England led to the downfall of the Anglo-Saxon King AEthelred and his replacement by the Danish victor, Cnut. His political influence is manifest in the law codes he drafted for both kings, and his sermons and other writings set out a spiritual interpretation based on sin, divine punishment and the need for penitence of the crisis. He was a towering figure in his own time and remains so today when his writings dominate scholarly debate concerning England at the turn of the first millennium. This conference brings together leading experts from across the world who will present new insights into the man, his career and his turbulent times in a lively and accessible way.”

Lectures will be held in the historic Abbot’s Kitchen in the Old Palace – one of the oldest buildings in the city and there will be an opportunity to take a tour of the Cathedral and the library and see some of the medieval gems and fragments of what remains of Wulfstan’s Anglo-Saxon world.

Wulfstan conference announced in Worcester

The Dean of Worcester, The Very Reverend Peter Atkinson, said:

“The Cathedral team is most grateful to Prof Katy Cubitt and Prof Andrew Rabin for working with us to bring together such a fantastic group of academic speakers and a wonderful programme, which will be of enormous interest not only to scholars, but to all who are fascinated by the history of Worcester and Worcester Cathedral.”

Tickets for the two-day conference are priced at £160 per person, including eight lectures, tea and coffee, a light lunch each day, a tour of the cathedral and/or library, a short dramatic recitation of highlights of Wulfstan’s preaching and an evening reception with drinks and canapes.

Attendees can also join the speakers at the conference dinner on Friday 24 March in the Cathedral’s early 12th Century Chapter House – thought to be the first round Chapter House in the world – at an additional cost of £35 per person.

For further information and to book, please email events@worcestercathedral.org.uk or visit the Worcester Cathedral website here.