ROSE BERGERON – Ever since moving to Peterborough in 2000, I have been intrigued by an enigmatic sign reading ‘Botulf’ (Greenzine, 2016) standing by the pedestrian bridge in between No Frills and the Holidays Inn.  What, in 1884, led the Canadian Pacific Railway to choose a name of Norse origins for its Peterborough railway point?  The suffix “ulf” means wolf, as in Adolf (noble wolf), Randolph, Beowulf, etc.  Other regional railway sidings bear predictable English-sounding names such as Byersville, Crawford’s Grove, and Yankee Bonnet.

Research led me to St. Botolph of Thorney, a British abbot who, in 654, founded a monastery near Peterborough, UK, which became one of the most influential spiritual centres of medieval England.  Botolph (also spelled Botwulf, Botulph or Botulf) was regarded as the “Holiest and Wisest Man in the Land”: kings and prelates visited to listen to his preaching and teachings. Born 23 years after St. Augustine brought Christianity back to Britain, Botolph bolstered the formation of a settled clergy, the formal structure of the Catholic Church, and founded numerous churches and monasteries.

A popular patron-saint of travellers in England and Western Europe, Botolph was also patron-saint of markets, fairs, crops, cattle, border regions and trade.  Since he had a reputation for warding off evil spirits, he was in great demand in the ghost and demon-ridden area.

St. Botolph’s fame spread abroad, in Holland, Germany, Denmark, Kiev, where numerous churches are named after him: St. Botulfo, St. Bótólfur, St. Bothil, St. Bodel, etc.  Eastern England counts about 70 St. Botolph churches.  A St. Botolph Church stood at each of the four London gates – the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the one at Billingsgate.  Travellers could pray Botolph for protection and good fortune before and after their trips.

In 1630, twelve puritan members of the congregation of St. Botolph’s Church in Lincolnshire sailed off to establish a colony in Massachusetts, where they founded Boston, originally called Botolphston (from “Botolph’s stone” or “Botolph’s town”).  In 2013, HRH Princess Anne dedicated the ‘Puritan Path” at St. Botolph’s Church in Boston, MA, nearby posh St. Botolph Social Club and St. Botolph St.

Over the winter of 869-70, as Vikings were destroying many monasteries in the Suffolk area where St. Botolph was buried, monks moved the saint’s relics to various locations, during a pitch black night.  According to the legend, a shaft of light shone down from heaven to guide the monks across a bridge.  Botolph Bridge, a well-known medieval town, is now a ward in urban Peterborough, UK.  Several English villages bear variations of Botolph’s name, such as Botulesbrige, Botelsbrig or Bottebridge, Bottle being a common colloquial development of Botolph. 

A modest banged-up sign for a great story! 

Curious about Botulf?  Contact Rose Bergeron for a presentation.  She is an author, cartoonist and environmentalist originally from Quebec, living in Ontario since 1993.