« St Dunstan, as the story goes,Once pull'd the devil by the noseWith red-hot tongs, which made him roar,That he was heard three miles or more. »
May 19 is the feast day of Saint Dunstan, one of the most popular saints in all of England. Living in the 10th century, Dunstan was Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury until his death in 988 AD.
According to the many legends surrounding the life of the Saint, Dunstan seems to have had numerous encounters with the Devil himself: the most famous story tells how Dunstan while living as a hermit in a cell at Glastonbury was visited by an old, mysterious man. As the Saint occupied himself with various crafts, including metalwork, the man asked him to make a chalice for him; Dunstan set to work, but soon noticed the appearance of his visitor kept changing - the old man turned into a young boy, then into a beautiful woman. The Saint thus realized he was in the presence of the Devil. Pretending not to know, Dunstan took the tongs he used for metalwork and laid them in the fire; as soon as they were red-hot, he pulled them out and quickly pinched the Devil's nose.
Many are the churches dedicated to Saint Dunstan, one of which also represents one of the most unique places for sightseeing in London. The medieval church of St Dunstan-in-the-East, in fact, was devastated by the German Blitz in 1941 and never rebuilt; after the War, however, the City of London decided to turn the ruins into a public garden. The lush vegetation enveloping the ruins has made St Dunstan-in-the-East one of the most evocative corners in London, although, at the same time, one of the less-known to casual tourists.
"Saint Dunstan and the Devil", illumination from the "Luttrell Psalter", ms. Add MS 42130, f. 54v, 1325-1340, British Library, London.