Saint of the Day – 3 August – Saint Waltheof of Melrose O.Cist. (c 1095-1159) Monk, Abbot, apostle of charity, mystic – born in c 1095 in England and died on 3 August 1160 of natural causes. Also known as Waldef or Waldeve. Noted for his severe, self-imposed austerities, endless kindness to the poor and a gentle hand with the brothers under his supervision. He received visions of Christ during the feasts of Christmas, Passiontide, and Easter and had visions of heaven and hell. St Waltheof was a Miracle worker who is reported to have multiplied food and miraculously healed the sick, especially the blind. Patronages – Melrose Abbey and Northamptonshire.
St Waltheof was of noble birth, (he was the son of Earl Simon of Northampton and Matilda, the great niece of William the Conqueror). He was born in England but grew up in the Scottish court, due to his mother’s second marriage after his father’s death. He could have become a court cleric but chose the monastic life, becoming an Austin canon at Nostell in Yorkshire. In 1134, he became prior of Kirkham. In 1140 he was a favourite to become Archbishop of York but King Stephen prevented this because he felt he would be too sympathetic to Scotland.
In his Life of Waltheof, Jocelin of Furness writes: “Waltheof’s face was the faithful interpreter of the inner man and gave convincing evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit inhabiting his heart. It was thin but fair except where ruddy colour infused his cheeks, soft as doves. His handsome white hair was in keeping with his reverend and religious character. His appearance showed grace infusing his spirit with happiness and exultation, it expressed the fact, that the lord treasured him and induced all who saw and spoke to him to hold him in affectionate reverence.”
St Waltheof wanted to bring the Cistercians at Rievaulx and the Austins at Kirkham together but the canons objected strongly. In 1149 he became abbot of Melrose, taking over from someone who had a notorious temper. St Waltheof developed a reputation for great kindness, gentleness and humility. He went on to found monasteries at Cultram and Kinross. In 1159 he was asked to be bishop of St Andrews but he refused as he knew death was near.
Jocelin also recalls that Abbot Waltheof was prone to take a nap whilst riding his horse, ‘Brother Grizzel’. On such occasions the horse would pick his steps carefully and slowly, lest he should trip but once the abbot was awake he would gallop swiftly, overtaking other steeds. Following Waltheof’s death, the horse was distraught and simply wasted away through sadness.
It has been said that he strove so greatly for perfection, that his confessors often found him irksome.
St Waltheof was never formally canonised but a popular cult grew around him until the Reformation. He is buried at the Cistercian chapter house at Melrose Abbey.
It is recorded in the Chronicle of Melrose that:
“The tomb of our pious father, sir Waltheof, the second abbot of Melrose, was opened by Enguerrand, of good memory, the bishop of Glasgow and by four abbots called in for this purpose and his body was found entire and his vestments intact, in the twelfth year from his death, on the eleventh day before the Kalends of June [22 May]. And after the holy celebration of mass, the same bishop and the abbots whose number we have mentioned above, placed over the remains of his most holy body a new stone of polished marble. And there was great gladness, those who were present exclaiming together and saying that truly this was a man of God …”