St. Botolph (also Botulf) is one of the most venerated saints in Eastern England and one of the greatest English missionaries in the 7th century. This wonderful saint has for many centuries been venerated not only throughout England but also in many other European countries. Over 70 ancient churches in England are dedicated to St. Botolph and this fact indicates a special love of the English faithful for the saint.
Botolph was born in about 615 in the kingdom of East Anglia and so was among the first to be baptized there. The younger brother of Botolph named Adolph (Adulf) is venerated as a saint as well. Both brothers were most probably related to the royal family. One of the East Anglian kings soon lapsed from the faith, but by the Lord’s providence an Irish missionary St. Fursey was sent to these lands and he founded a monastery at Burgh Castle in Norfolk. The brothers were educated at this monastery and were tonsured monks there. In about 640 the pagan king Penda of Mercia attacked East Anglia and the holy brothers had to move to Sussex in southern England, where they lived for some time at the monastery in Bosham which had been founded by another Irishman, St. Dicul.
In 647, Botolph visited a monastery in Gaul, where he gained experience in spiritual life and received excellent preparation. Returning to his native England, the saint undertook an extensive missionary work. After death of the pious King Anna of East Anglia in 654 at the hands of a pagan king, St. Botolph in memory of Anna built his most famous monastery in the place known as Ikenho. Nearly all researchers identify this with the hamlet of Iken in north-eastern Suffolk where the very ancient former monastery church of St. Botolph survives to this day. In the 7th century this monastery became one of the largest and most influential spiritual centres in England. In Iken St. Botolph struggled much against the demons who dwelled in that area in great numbers and vexed him continually. By the power of the sign of the cross and through his austere ascetic life the venerable man vanquished them and drove them away from the area.
Abbot Botolph gathered around him many brethren, instructed them in the spiritual life and became famous as a wise and learned mentor. Everybody saw a loving and caring father in him. He himself cultivated the land in Iken and thanks to his labours the formerly swampy soil around Iken became very fertile.
Already during his life, St. Botolph was loved all over England for his holy life, wisdom, miracles of healing, prophecies and for driving out evil spirits. He was a good example for his spiritual children in all things.
According to his life, “All loved Botolph: he always was humble, modest, friendly and mild in communication, proved the truth of his sermons by example of his life… He taught his monks the rules of Christian perfection and the decrees of the Church Fathers. He thanked God both in good and sorrowful times alike, knowing that He makes everything for the good of those who love Him”. The saint excelled in extreme mercy, poverty and kindness.
Once he gave all the monastery’s food supplies to the poor. The brethren started complaining, but at once they saw boats moving towards the monastery on the river, filled with gifts from generous donors. The saint did not stay only in Iken. He made many missionary journeys, founding numerous churches and monasteries. There were many navigable rivers in East Anglia, so it was easy for him to travel and whenever Botolph stopped, he always preached the Gospel. That is why many churches dedicated to St. Botolph stand on river banks—they were originally founded by him or his disciples. There are very many holy sites, associated with this glorious saint in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and even to the south (Kent and Sussex) and to the north (Lincolnshire).
On his missionary trips, Botolph reached even the north and west of England, where, for example, he founded the monastery of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. By the end of his life, Iken had become so famous that priests, abbots, learned men and ordinary people flocked to this centre from all corners of the country. A tireless missionary, wonderworker and father of monks, St. Botolph reposed in 680 after a long illness. His brother St. Adolph reposed in the same year. Veneration of St. Botolph as a saint began right after his death.
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