Home  »  Volume XI: November  »  St. Winoc, Abbot

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume XI: November. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

November 6

St. Winoc, Abbot

AMONG the Britons, who, flying from the swords of the English Saxons, took refuge in the maritime province of Armorica, in Gaul, several turned their afflictions into their greatest spiritual advantage, and from them learned to despise transitory things, and to seek with their whole hearts those which are eternal. Hence Armorica, called from them Brittany, was for some ages a country particularly fruitful in saints. Conan founded this principality of Lesser Britain in 383. His grandson and successor, Solomon I., was murdered by his own subjects, provoked by his zeal to reform their morals, in 434. Some think this prince, rather than the third of that name, to be the Solomon whose name has been inserted in some Armorican calendars. Gratton, the third prince, founded the abbey of Landevenec. Budic, the seventh of these princes, was defeated by the Franks, and seems to have been slain by King Clovis about the year 509. His son Riowald or Hoel I. gathered an army of Britons dispersed in the islands about Great Britain, and returning in 513, recovered the principality in the reign of Childebert, and is called by many the first duke of Brittany. St. Winoc was of blood royal, descending from Riowald, and kinsman to St. Judoc. 1 The example and instructions of holy tutors made a deep impression upon his tender soul: he learned very early to be thoroughly sensible of the dangers, instability, and emptiness of all worldly enjoyments, and understood what great watchfulness and diligence are required for a Christian to stand his ground, and daily to advance in virtue. The most excellent precepts which a person has received from his masters in a spiritual life, become useless to him, if he ever think himself sufficiently instructed, and cease to preach these important lessons over and over again to himself, and to improve daily in spiritual knowledge and sentiments by pious attention and assiduous earnest meditation.  1
  Winoc was careful by this method to nourish the good seed which had been sown in his soul. In company with three virtuous young noblemen of his country he made several journeys of devotion, in one of which he visited the new monastery of Sithiu or St. Peter’s, now St. Bertin’s, at St. Omer; and was so edified with the fervour and discipline of the monks, and the wisdom and sanctity of the holy abbot St. Bertin, that he and his three companions all agreed to take the habit together. This they did, not in 660, as Mabillon conjectured, but later than the year 670, perhaps nearer 690. St. Winoc’s three companions were, Quedenoc, Ingenoc, and Madoc. The edifying lives of these servants of God spread an odour of sanctity through the whole country: and the chronicle of St. Bertin’s testifies that St. Winoc shone like a morning star among the hundred and fifty fervent monks who inhabited that sanctuary of piety.  2
  It was judged proper to found a new monastery in a remoter part of the vast diocess of Terouenne, which might be a seminary of religion for the instruction and example of the inhabitants of that part of the country. For the Morini who composed that diocess, comprised, besides Artois and part of Picardy, a considerable part of what was soon after called Flanders. 2 Heremar, a pious nobleman, who had lately embraced the faith, bestowed on St. Bertin the estate of Wormhoult, very convenient for that purpose, six leagues from Sithiu. St. Bertin sent thither his four illustrious British monks to found a new monastery, not in the year 660, as Mabillon imagined, but some years later; Stiltin says, in his life of St. Bertin, in 690. Mabillon tells us, from the traditionary report of the monks, that St. Winoc first led a solitary life at Groenberg, where the monastery now stands: but no mention is made of this in his life. Having built their monastery at Wormhoult, Quedenoc, Ingenoc, and Madoc, who were elder in years, successively governed this little colony. After their demise St. Winoc was appointed abbot by St. Bertin. He and his brethren worked themselves in building their church and cells together, with an hospital for poor sick; for nothing in their whole lives was more agreeable to them than to labour for the service of God, and that of the poor.  3
  St. Winoc saw his community in a short time very numerous, and conducted them in the practices of admirable humility, penance, devotion, and charity. The reputation of his sanctity was enhanced by many miracles which he wrought. Such was his readiness to serve all his brethren, that he seemed every one’s servant; and appeared the superior chiefly by being the first and most fervent in every religious duty. It was his greatest pleasure to wait on the sick in the hospital. Even in his decrepit old age he ground the corn for the use of the poor and his community, turning the wheel with his own hand without any assistance. When others were astonished he should have strength enough to ply constantly such hard labour, they looked through a chink into the room, and saw the wheel turning without being touched, which they ascribed to a miracle. At work he never ceased praying with his lips, or at least in his heart; and only interrupted his manual labour to attend the altar or choir, or for some other devotions or monastic duties. His ardent sighs to be dissolved and to be with Christ were accomplished by a happy death, which put him in possession of his desired bliss on the 6th of November, before the middle of the eighth century. For fear of the Danish plunderers, who, in the following century, made a descent upon the coast of Flanders, his bones were carried to Sithiu. Baldwin the Bald, count of Flanders, having built and fortified the town of Berg, in 920, that it might be a strong barrier to his dominions; Count Baldwin IV. or the Bearded, in 1028, built and founded there a stately abbey in honour of St. Martin and St. Winoc, which he peopled with a colony from St. Bertin’s, and he enriched it with the relics of St. Winoc; and the lands or estates of the monastery of Wormhoult, which were not far distant, were settled by the founder upon this house, and the town bears the name of Berg-St.-Winoc.  4
  Dom de Cousser, actual prior of St. Winoc’s, in his MS. annals of his monastery, endeavours to prove that a succession of monks had continued to inhabit a cell at Wormhoult, from the destruction of that abbey to its restoration in the city of Berg. The walls of the fortress did not take in the abbey till, in 1420, the abbot Moer raised a wall round the hill. The abbey of Berg was burnt with the town, by the French in 1383, when twelve candlesticks of massy gold, of an incredible weight and size, and other immense riches, were consumed in the church, and with them many shrines and relics of saints, particularly of St. Oswald the English king and martyr, and his cousin the holy virgin St. Hisberga, whom Molanus by mistake confounds with the Flandrican St. Isberge. Nothing of these relics escaped the flames, except a small parcel of little bones of St. Oswald kept separate. They are still exposed in that church in a reliquary made in the figure of an arm. 3 The relics of St. Winoc were not damaged. They are now preserved in a triple shrine raised over the high altar, and the head in a large silver bust apart. See the life of St. Winoc, with a relation of many miracles after his death, written probably in the ninth century before the devastation of the Normans in 880, MSS. in the Library of Berg-St.-Winoc, published by Surius, and more correctly by Mabillon, sæc. 3. Ben. p. 1. Also see the Chronology of St. Winoc’s, nearly of the same age. Thirdly, Drogo or Dreuoc, a monk of St. Winoc’s in the middle of the eleventh century, in his history of the miracles of St. Winoc, to many of which he had heen an eye-witness. He prefixed a life of St. Winoc, in Mabillon, sæc. 3. p. 310. He likewise composed a life of St. Lewina, an English virgin, in Mabillon, ib. and the Bollandists, 24 Julii, p. 613. and of St. Oswald, king and martyr, in Surius, 5 Aug. Some make this writer the same who was bishop of Terouenne from 1031 to 1078, and who wrote the life of St. Godeleva, virgin. But the monk expressly mentions this bishop his namesake and contemporary. See also on St. Winoc, Thomas the Deacon, a monk of Berg, who wrote in the fourteenth century, was eye-witness to the plunder and burning of the abbey and city by the French in 1383; a most faithful and accurate historian.  5
  St. Winoc’s history is abridged by Anian de Coussere, monk of Berg, and abbot of St. Peter’s of Aldenberg, who wrote a chronicle from the birth of Christ, and the translation of St. Arnulph, abbot of Aldenberg, and died in 1468.  6
  Likewise by Peter of Wallen Capelle, prior of Berg, abbot of Broin at Namur, from 1585 to 1592, whilst his brother Francis, a Franciscan, was bishop of that city. Peter returned to Berg, and there died. He is author of two excellent treatises on the monastic state, the one called Illustrationes, the other Institutiones Monasticæ, to which the learned Vanespen was much indebted in what he wrote on this subject. Consult also on St. Winoc, Miræus in Fastis Belgicis, and Chron. Belgico. Meyer, Chronic. Gramaie, Descr. Historica Winoci Bergens. Abbatiæ, p. 148–153, &c.  7
Note 1. The pedigree of St. Winoc, prefixed to his ancient life, though drawn up by another hand, commences from Riwal, whose seven successors of his posterity are named to Judicaël, eldest son of Hoel III., and father of St. Judoc, of Alan II. the eldest, and Urbian. The two latter succeeded him in different parts of his principality. Winoc is here said to have been another son to B. Judicaël: he must rather have been his grandson or little nephew. For Judicaël abdicated his kingdom about the year 638, and died in the abbey of Gaël about the year 658. Whereas St. Winoc did not arrive at Sithiu before the year 670, and was at that time very young. [back]
Note 2. St. Owen, in 678, is the most ancient writer who, in his life of St. Eligius, makes use of the name of Flanders, which he confines to the city and territory of Bruges, under the title of Municipium Flandrense. Lewis le Debonnaire and Charles the Bald, in the ninth century, and others, give the name of Mempiscus to the territory on both sides of the brook Yper from Ypres to the German Ocean at Yperæ or Isaræ Portus, which Philip of Alsace, count of Flanders, made a celebrated harbour and town called Nieuport, in 1168. In Mempiscus were the town Roslar, now Rousselaer, and the village Helsoca, now Esche, between Bailleul and Cassel; consequently also Wormhoult and the abbey of St. Winoc; also Torhoult in the diocess of Bruges, which reaches to the gates of Nieuport. Wastelaine, in his Gaule Belgique, printed at Lille in 1761, derives the name Mempiscus from the Menapii who inhabited only villages from the Escaut to the Rhine and beyond it. They might have made a settlement among the Morini: and Cassel has been called by some, Castellum Morinorum. But this etymology seems to others quite improbable. This territory was soon after comprised in Flanders when that name was extended from the castle of Bruges to almost all the country which lies betwixt the Somme, the Scheldt, and the ocean, given by the Emperor Charles the Bald as a dower with his daughter Judith married to Baldwin I. or of the Iron-Arm, founder of the hereditary sovereign counts of Flanders, in 863. Flanders, thus circumscribed, comprised part of the Menapii, all the territory of the Morini and Atrebates, Tournay, (placed by the Tables of Peutinger, among the Nervii, not mentioned before Antoninus and St. Jerom,) and Bagacum, (now Bagaye in Haynault,) the old capital of the Nervii, which honour, when that city was destroyed by the Huns in 385, was transferred to Cambray. The Nervii were extended from the Atrebates, and the Morini as far as Treviri. [back]
Note 3. Drogo relates that Balger, a monk of St. Winoc’s, going into England, was highly in favour with St. Edward the Confessor. In his return he brought with him, in 1038, the relics of St. Oswald, king and martyr, and his cousin Hisberg, virgin. Twenty years after, being driven by a northerly wind into the harbour of Zevort, not far from Canterbury, he carried back with him from the church of St. Andrew, served by the monks of Canterbury, the relics of St. Lewine, a virgin who suffered martyrdom when St. Theodore was archbishop of Canterbury. Her feast fell on the 22d of July, but to make place for St. Mary Magdalen was transferred to the 24th. See Drogo, Mayer ad an. 1058. Peter of Wallon Capel. Molanus, &c. [back]