Botwulf of Thorney

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Botwulf of Thorney
Born7th century
Venerated in
  • 17 June (England)
  • 25 June (Scotland)
  • 1 December (translation of relics)
PatronageTravellers and farming

Botwulf of Thorney /ˈbɒtʊlf/ (also called Botolph, Botulph or Botulf; died around 680) was an English abbot and saint. He is regarded as the patron saint of boundaries, and by extension, of trade and travel,[3] as well as various aspects of farming. His feast day is celebrated either on 17 June (England) or 25 June (Scotland), and his translation falls on 1 December.[citation needed]

Life and works[edit]

St Botolph's Church, Iken, Suffolk

Little is known about Botwulf's life, other than doubtful details in an account written four hundred years after his death by the 11th-century monk Folcard. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records for the year 653:1 "The Middle Angles, under earldorman Peada, received the true faith. King Anna was killed and Botwulf began to build the church at Ikanho". Botwulf founded the monastery of Icanho in Suffolk. Icanho, which means 'ox hill', has been identified as Iken, located by the estuary of the River Alde in Suffolk; a church still remains on top of an isolated hill in the parish.2 The Life of St Ceolfrith, written around the time of Bede by an unknown author, mentions an abbot named Botolphus in East Anglia, "a man of remarkable life and learning, full of the grace of the Holy Spirit".3

Botwulf is supposed to have been buried originally at his foundation of Icanho, but in 970 Edgar I of England gave permission for Botwulf's remains to be transferred to Burgh, near Woodbridge, where they remained for some fifty years before being transferred to their own tomb at Bury St Edmunds Abbey on the instructions of Cnut. The saint's relics were later transferred again, along with those of his brother Adulph, to Thorney Abbey, although his head was transferred to Ely Abbey and various body parts to other houses, including Westminster Abbey.

Church dedications[edit]

Many English churches are dedicated to Botwulf. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 64 ancient English churches were dedicated to him, but later research has suggested the true number may have been as high as 71, with a high concentration of dedications in East Anglia. St Botolph's Church in Boston, Lincolnshire, known locally as "The Stump", is one of the most famous. Boston, or 'Botolph's town' also gave Boston, Massachusetts its name. St Botolph's Priory in Colchester, Essex, the first Augustinian monastery in England,[4] was built on an earlier Saxon church dedicated to Botolph.[5] St Botolph's Church in Hardham, West Sussex, houses some of the most ancient surviving wall paintings in Britain, including the earliest known depiction of St George in England.

In Botwulf's role as a patron saint of travellers, four City of London churches were dedicated to him, all of which were close to gates in the City walls: St Botolph Billingsgate, which was destroyed in the Great Fire and never rebuilt; St Botolph's, Aldersgate, St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, where the poet John Keats was baptised, and St Botolph's Aldgate. It is believed that these dedications were made because the churches provided places for incoming travellers to give thanks for their safe arrival and for outgoing travellers to pray for a safe journey. An alternative possibility is that the churches were dedicated to the saint because his relics came through the four gates when Edgar moved them from Iken to Westminster Abbey.

Beyond the North Sea, Budolfi Church (Sankt Budolfi kirke) in Aalborg, Denmark, originally a smallish building, grew to be the major church of the town by the late Middle Ages and is now the cathedral church of the diocese of Aalborg.

Secular connections[edit]

Botwulf is remembered in the names of both the market town of Boston, Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom and Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States. Boston was originally Botolphston (from "Botolph's stone" or "Botolph's town").

In Boston, Massachusetts, Botwulf gives his name to the St Botolph Club, a private club,[6] a street in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, and the President's House at Boston College. There is also a St Botolph Street in London.

The University of Cambridge's poetry journal in the 1950s, to which Ted Hughes contributed, was called St Botolph's Review. It was named for St Botolph's Church, Cambridge as one of its founders, Lucas Myers, lived at the rectory of St Botolph's Church in Cambridge. A second edition of the journal was published in 2006. "St Botolph's College" has been used as a hypothetical college in Cambridge University communications and Tripos examinations.[citation needed]

The parish of Buttsbury in Essex was initially called Botolfvespirie,[7] meaning Botolph's or Botwulf's Pear Tree. It is sometimes surmised that the name refers to a tree under which St Botolph preached.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fr Andrew Phillips. "Latin Saints of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome". Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-07. Retrieved 2010-01-26.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Churches in the Landscape, p217-221, Richard Morris, ISBN 0-460-04509-1
  4. ^ "Houses of Austin canons: Priory of St Botolph, Colchester | British History Online". Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  5. ^ Ashdown-Hill, John (2009), Mediaeval Colchester's Lost Landmarks. Published by The Breedon Books Publishing Company Limited. (ISBN 978-1-85983-686-6)
  6. ^ "Boston, MA – Home". St. Botolph Club. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
  7. ^ Eilert Ekwall. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. 4th ed.


  • Attwater, D., The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, London (1965)
  • Care Evans, A., The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, London (1986) ISBN 0-7141-0544-9
  • Ryan, George E., Botolph Of Boston, Christopher Publishing House (1971) ISBN 0-8158-0252-8
  • Savage, A., The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, Godalming (1995) ISBN 1-85833-478-0

External links[edit]