St Bertwald of Ramsbury – Our Very Own Saint!
Monday 22 January marks the feast day of Ramsbury’s very own saint, St Bertwald, ninth Saxon Bishop of Ramsbury.
Variously spelled Birthwald, Berhtwald, Birthwold etc, St Bertwald of Ramsbury is not the same as the earlier St Berhtwald of Canterbury (coincidentally ninth Archbishop in the 8th century) although they have often been confused historically – see below.
Bertwald was originally a Benedictine monk at Glastonbury Abbey before being made Bishop of Ramsbury in 1005. During his 40 year episcopacy, he oversaw the see’s move to Old Sarum which eventually led to it becoming the Diocese of Salisbury in 1075.
He must have been a skilled political player, as he managed to retain the favour of Canute (Danish King of England from 1016-1035) notwithstanding his principal claim to fame – a prophesy, revealed to him in a vision of St Peter, that Edward the Confessor would succeed to the throne. This would have seemed highly unlikely at the time – Canute had invaded the country and defeated both Edward’s father Aethelred the Unready and brother Edmund Ironside. With Ironside’s death in 1016, the Danish hold on throne of England looked secure and indeed Canute’s two sons, Harold Harefoot and Harthacanute, would rule in turn before Edward could finally accede in 1042.
As with so many medieval and earlier saints, details of Bertwald’s canonisation are obscure and, although he was revered for his many visions and prophesies, it’s possible that his elevation to sainthood was actually the result of a confusion with the more illustrious Berhtwald of Canterbury.
Nevertheless, his cult enjoyed local popularity for many centuries and he continues to be venerated in the Roman Catholic church and several Eastern churches.
Happy St Bertwald’s Day to you all!