The Legend of St Wistan!

Anglo-Saxon Kings of Mercia

There’s an old legend told that Wistan was the son of Wigmund. He was one of the Anglo-Saxon kings of Mercia. Wistan should have taken over the throne when his father died, but turned it down and asked his mother, Queen Elfleda, to act as regent instead.

Wistan and his devious cousin

Wistan had a cousin, Berhtric, who decided that if he married Queen Elfleda then he could be the king.

Wistan understandably thought a marriage between such close relatives was not on but Berhtric wasn’t pleased with Wistan’s thinking. He invited Wistan to a meeting to discuss the matter.

Berhtric and the hilt of a sword

Come the meeting, Berhtric suggested they wandered off to a more private spot so they would not be overheard. This was just a devious ploy and instead of sorting out their differences Berhtric did away with Wistan by hitting him on the head with the hilt of his sword.

The buried body

Berhtric buried the body before anyone noticed. What’s more, he might have got away with it too, except that a column of light appeared above where Wistan’s body was buried. Even weirder, hair sprouted from the ground where his blood had run.

Fitting the facts?

It all seems to fit the facts too as, back in the year 850, one of the king’s big estates was being run from Great Glen, the next village to Wistow. This would be just the sort of place where people like Berhtric might arrange to meet other important folk.

Great Glen and Royal Charters

Indeed, a royal charter describing a gift of land has come down to us and that was signed at Glen in the same year Wistan died.

May create tricky problems

It could even have been that everyone had gathered together for a royal court to sort out such administrative things as gifts of land. It would have been entirely appropriate for Wistan and Berhtirc to have needed to meet up for such an occasion. Then head off for a one- to-one chat to try to resolve any tricky problems.

Wistan’s Holy Place

The place where St Wistan was murdered became known as Wistanstow. This originally meant ‘Wistan’s holy place’. His bones were taken to Repton, by the River Trent in Derbyshire. Here Mercian kings had already built an imposing crypt for their mortal remains. It can still be visited today, although there is no evidence of the kings anymore.

St Wistan

Wistan was soon made into a saint. It was said that where he died nothing grew except grass, which sprouted like hair for just one hour on the 1st June, to commemorate the day of his death.

From Leicestershire Legends retold by Black Annis

If anyone happens upon the Sprouting Hair on 1st June – do please forward the photo to The Editor!