FEAST OF ST EDMUND THE MARTYR
FEAST DAY – 20th NOVEMBER
Saint Edmund, or Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia in the 9th century AD, is the first saint of England. He was born on Christmas Day, 841 AD. Edmund succeeded to the throne of East Anglia in 856. As a Christian, he fought alongside King Alfred of Wessex against the pagan Viking and Norse invader until 869/70, when his forces were defeated and Edmund was captured by the Vikings. He was ordered to renounce his faith and share power with the pagan Vikings, but he refused.
Edmund became king when he was only fourteen. Yet his high position did not render him proud or conceited. Instead, he took as his role model the Old Testament king, David. Edmund tried to serve God as well as David had. He even learned David’s psalms, which are the hymns of praise to God contained in the Holy Bible. He governed wisely, showing kindness to all his subjects.
When the Danish barbarians invaded his land, he fought them bravely. Their army was much larger than his. At last, the English king was captured. The barbarian leader offered to spare Edmund’s life if he would agree to certain terms. But since these terms were opposed to his country and his religion, the king refused. He declared he would never save his life by offending God and his people. In anger, the chief condemned him to death.
St. Edmund was tied to a tree and then cruelly whipped. The holy king took it all patiently, calling on Jesus for strength. Next, his torturers shot arrows into every part of his body. They were careful not to hit any vital organ, so his sufferings would be prolonged. At last he was beheaded. King Edmund died in 870. The date was 20th November. His decapitated head is said to have been reunited with its body with the help of a talking wolf who alerted his men. Devotion to St. Edmund the martyr became very popular in England. Many churches were dedicated in his honor.
During the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, his remains were removed to France where they remained until 1911. Today they are kept in the chapel in Arundel Castle. It is known that in 902 his remains were moved to Bedricsworth (modern Bury St. Edmunds) where King Athelstan founded a religious community to care for his shrine, a place of national pilgrimage.
King Canute built a stone abbey on the site in 1020 to house the shrine. For centuries Edmund’s resting place was patronised by the kings of England and the abbey became increasingly wealthy as the cult of St Edmund grew. Such was the influence of St Edmund that on St Edmund’s Day in 1214 rebel English barons held a secret meeting there before going to confront King John with the Charter of Liberties, the forerunner to Magna Carta which he signed a year later. This event is reflected in the motto of Bury St Edmunds: ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’.
Although the banner of St. Edmund was still carried into battle by the English army, by the time of Edward I it had been joined by the flag of St. George. In 1348, Edward III founded a new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. Edward made St George the patron of the Order and also declared him Patron Saint of England. But St Edmund has not been forgotten.
An attempt was made in 2006 to have St Edmund reinstated as patron saint of England. A petition was handed into Parliament but it was rejected by the government. In 2013 another campaign was launched to reinstate St Edmund as patron saint. This was the ‘St Edmund for England’ e-petition, backed by the Bury St Edmunds based brewery, Greene King. It questioned whether St George, patron saint of 16 other countries, ever even visited England and suggested he should be replaced by an Englishman, and who better than the Anglo-Saxon martyr-king St Edmund.
Edmund is the patron saint of pandemics as well as kings, the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia, and Douai Abbey in Berkshire. Churches dedicated to his memory are to be found all over England, including St Edmund the King and Martyr’s Church in London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren during the 1670s.
Into your hands, O Lord, we entrust this day our souls, and those of all believers. Keep us safe through Saint Edmund’s special intercession, by the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all heavenly hosts, from all vicious and unruly desires, sins and temptations of the devil, and sudden and unprovided death and the pains of hell.
Illuminate our heart with the grace of your Holy Spirit; grant that we may, like Saint Edmund, be ever obedient to your commandments and may we not be separated from you, O God, in the Name of Jesus our Lord. Amen
Saint Edmund, pray that we be delivered from the Coronavirus pandemic, O Patron Saint of pandemics, in the Name of Jesus. Amen