Dunstan was one of the great churchman of his day. He was known as a creative genius, a forward thinking educator and a strong spiritual leader. He was an advisor to kings and mentor to fellow priests and others in religious life. The name Dunstan means "firm rock".
The period in which Dunstan was born was known as the "Dark Ages" in England. The people were just beginning to recover from two centuries of Scandinavian invasions. The monasteries were in a state of decline, and monastic life, as it was once known in England, was nearly extinct. It was in the restoration of this lost monastic heritage that Dunstan was to make his indelible mark in History.
Dunstan was born on an estate in Baltonsborough, England and attends school as a youth at the Glastonbury Abbey. He was frequently in the company of the royal court of the day, as befitted the prestige of his family. The favour shown to him by King Athelstan, made Dunstan very unpopular. His enemies managed to have him expelled from the Abbey.
Dunstan then spent time visiting an uncle who was Bishop of Winchester and later, after a severe illness, he decided to become a monk. He studied Scripture and spent many hours in prayer in his small cell.
In 940, the new King Edmund recalled Dunstan to the court. Again he was subject to accusations by his colleagues who were jealous of his influence with the king. The king sought to have Dunstan expelled from the court, however a near brush with death caused Edmund to confess his maltreatment and instead installed Dunstan as Abbot of Glastonbury. Edmund promised Dunstan with the resources for the development of the Abbey and its monastary.
Dunstan made many reforms by introducing a higher standard of monastic life through reforms in education. Dunstan desired to make the church the educator of the people.
Dunstan also became an important statesman until the reign of King Edwy, who resented him and sought his downfall. Dunstan was forced to leave England in 956 and sought refuge at the monastery of St. Peter’s in Blandinium in Belgium.
In 957 was recalled to England on the accession of King Edgar and was made a Bishop. In 959 Dunstan was elected Archbishop of Canterbury. Politically he sought to reconcile the Anglo-Saxon and Danish populations in England, thereby securing a civic peace, largely unknown for decades, and uniting the populace loyalty to their king.
In 972 Dunstan took an active part in developing the monastic rules and liturgical canon (Regularis Concordia) to be observed in all monasteries in England.
In 975, King Edgar died and Dunstan’s public role became less important. In his later years, he lived the life of a monk. He began to fail in health on Ascension Day, May 17, 988. On that day, he celebrated Mass. On Saturday, May 19, 988, Dunstan died in the presence of his community. He was buried near the altar of the Cathedral at Canterbury.
Dunstan’s popularity was evident by his almost immediate declaration as a saint. In 1017, King Canute ordered the universal observance of May 19th as the Feast Day for St. Dunstan.
Such was the legacy of a man and a saint.