St Dunstan was born in 10th Century Somerset. He was given an excellent education by the monks of Glastonbury, and excelled in art and intellectual pursuits. He went to work for his uncle, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then for the King, Athelstan.
He was very popular with the King – which made him rather unpopular with other people. He was accused of witchcraft and banished from the court. While he was leaving he was set upon, beaten, and thrown into a cesspool. He managed to crawl out and escape to his other uncle, the Bishop of Winchester.
His uncle thought that he should become a monk, although Dunstan wasn’t sure he was suited to a celibate life. He took the hint, though, when he was afflicted with swelling tumours from head to foot – and decided to take Holy Orders.
Dunstan became famous for his music and metalworking and also became wealthy from inheritances. He became powerful, was an advisor to King Edmund, and then was made Abbot of Glastonbury. He introduced the Rule of St Benedict there as part of a reform, but experienced a change of fortune under a new King.
The King missed a meeting and was found by Dunstan cavorting with a noblewoman. Dunstan forced him to denounce his lady friend as a strumpet…which proved unfortunate as he then married the strumpet, who was not best pleased with Dunstan.
Dunstan went into exile in Belgium, but returned when yet another King was crowned, and became the Archbishop of Canterbury and unofficial Prime Minister. He retired, spending his time in scholarship, and died ten years later after informing his congregation one day that he was going to die, and duly doing so the following morning.
The feast day of St Dunstan (909-19 May 988) is on the 19th May. His story perhaps reminds us of the vicissitudes of fortune of those who are close to power or who work as politicians!