January 19 – Mark of Ephesus; Wulfstan of Worcester

Icon of Mark of Ephesus, late 19th centuryMark of Ephesus (1392–1444) is a controversial saint who cast the sole “nay” vote at the Council of Florence on the question of the reunification of the Orthodoxen and Roman Catholics. The son of a Constantinopolitan deacon, schooled by a philosopher and by a future bishop, Mark was at the time of the Council the Metropolitan of Ephesus, and was there representing of the Patriarch of Alexandria. The council would have changed the word filioque (“and the son”), added to the Nicene Creed by the western church over the howls of eastern theologians (except the ones that didn’t mind), to ex filio (“our daughter’s former husband”—kidding—“through the Son”). The council also talked about other bones of contention that bishops and theologians wrangle over while their flocks are at the local pub drinking beer together.

The council looked to be a great success, but when the eastern bishops returned to Constantinople to meet connecting floats to their homes, the people jeered at them. Except Mark, to whom they gave a hero’s welcome (the hero whose welcome it had been said he didn’t mind, but wished they had asked first.)

The union so painfully almost worked out was repudiated by the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch in 1443, and of Constantinople in 1472, and thus never went into effect. Mark was fêted and fawned over while alive, and made a saint and called a “Pillar of Orthodoxy” after his death. The two churches, in spite of some lovely photo ops between various Patriarchs and Popes, remain officially estranged. I’m taking up a collection to buy the bishops beer. Please give generously.

Painted glass image of Wulfstan of Worcester, from Holy Trinity church, Long Itchington, UK, date unknownWulfstan, Bishop of Worcester (ca. 1008–1095), was also called Wulfstan II to distinguish him from somebody else with the same name. Sadly that other Wulfstan is also sometimes called Wulfstan II to distinguish him from a yet another Wulfstan. Finally our Wulfstan II was probably named after that other Wulfstan II, who was his uncle and also a bishop. And you thought your family was confusing[1].

My sources say he developed a reputation for chastity (one wonders exactly how one goes about developing such a reputation, but then again one would really rather not know), and was in due time ordained to the priesthood, serving as prior of Worcester. When Archbishop Ealdred of York, who had appointed himself Bishop of Worcester, was forced to relinquish the latter post, there was Wulfstan, ready to be made his replacement. Strictly speaking Worcester falls within the province of the Archbishop of Canterbury, one Stigand at the time, but Wulfstan was wary of being consecrated by Stigand, whose own consecration was uncanonical. And you thought your diocese was confusing.

During these goings-on, William the Conqueror waded ashore, and soon cleared out all the bishops on the island and replaced them with his own cronies chosen bishops—all except Wulfstan, that is. This was, our source assures us, because when William looked at Worcester, he saw Wulfstan dutifully taking care of his flock and keeping his head low. It may also be because he ran out of eligible cronies; we’ll never know.

Wulfstan spent the rest of his episcopacy caring for the poor, running interference for the English against their new Norman overlords, and undertaking a vast rebuilding program. He must have made a good name for himself among the Normans, for legend has it that some 60 years after his death, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, during one of their rare getting-along periods, came and placed their crowns on his tomb, vowing never to wear them again. (Admittedly, witnesses report they were bickering about the decision as they rode away.)

Oh, and he’s the patron saint of vegetarians.

[1]Nobody called him “Wolfie.”