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St. Dunstan Tweaks the Devil’s Nose

Hugh O’Reilly
While Dunstan’s mother Cynethrith was pregnant with her unborn child, the feast of the Purification of the blessed ever-virgin Mary shone forth. People from all the surrounding area flocked to the church dedicated to the Virgin in Glastonbury, to render the service of devotion at this great festival to Christ, the King of Kings and His Holy Mother.

The boy’s father Heorstan went with his wife, Cynethryth, to be present with their lighted candles at the Mass. All the people were in the church with tapers in their hands. And as it was read how the Child Jesus was brought by his parents to the Temple. Suddenly all the lights were extinguished, and the whole building was plunged into darkness by a thick mist.


St Dunstan became one of
the greatest Bishops of England

A cold fear crept through the congregation, their hair stood on end, their knees knocked together; they stood paralyzed and stupefied by fear. But – so that all that the Lord intended should be made clear – suddenly a light from Heaven blazed forth in the temple, and lit the candle that the pregnant woman bore in her hand. If they had marveled at the loss of light, now they marveled still more at its appearance!

So that all the others came and lighted their tapers at the taper of St. Dunstan’s mother.

Wherefore all the people gave laud and thankgiving unto Our Lord God for this great miracle. And then there was a holy man who understood what had happened. And he told all gathered there that the child that this woman would bear should give light to all England by his holy living.

And indeed, Indeed St. Dunstan (d. 988) would become perhaps the greatest Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury.

Now let us see how Dunstan pulled the nose of the devil as he was living as a hermit.

The hermit Dunstan tweaks the Devil’s nose

In early youth Dunstan was brought by his father and committed to the care of the Irish scholars of the Abbey of Glastonbury. He made his profession at the hands of St. Aelfheah, and went to live the life of a hermit at Glastonbury. Against the old church of St. Mary he built a little cell, where he studied and worked at his metal working with his own hands to eschew idleness and played on his harp.

dunstan's nose

St. Dunstan pulled the nose of the Devil
who was tempting him

Here the Devil is said to have tempted him in the likeness of a woman, who came to him to have a chalice made. But he soon realized her wickedness and anon caught her by the nose with a pair of iron tongs, burning hot in the fire. Then the Devil began to roar and cry and he fast tried to draw away. He wished for all the world that he’d never come there!

But St. Dunstan held fast to her nose until far into the night and then let her go. And the fiend departed with a horrible noise and cry that was heard all over the land: “Alas, what’s this bald one done? What’s this bald one done?” so that all could hear, promising to revenge himself on the holy monk.

But the villain had got such a good tweaking of his nose that he never hurried back there against to tempt him in that craft.


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Adapted from Life of Dunstan by Osbern of Canterbury,
on A Clerk in Oxford blog and The Golden Legend
Posted February 13, 2021

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