Saint Canute IV, King and Martyr

January 19

Today is the feast day of Saint Canute.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Canute IV, was the illegitimate son of Swein Estrithson, nephew of King Canute the Great. He married Adela, daughter of Robert I, Count of Flanders and they had one son, Charles. (7)

The 11th century is one of the most glorious of the Christian era, and gave, both to the Church and the various states of Europe, a great number of saintly Kings. Among them St. Canute IV of Denmark stands pre-eminent by reason of the halo of his martyrdom. He had every quality which forms a Christian prince: he was a zealous propagator of the Faith of Christ, he was a brave warrior, he was pious, and he was charitable to the poor. His zeal for the Church (and in those days Her rights were counted as the rights of the people) was made the pretext for putting him to death: he died in the midst of a sedition as a victim sacrificed for his people’s sake. His offering to the new-born King was that of his blood; and in exchange for the perishable crown he lost, he received that which the Church gives to her Martyrs, and which can never be taken away. The history of Denmark in the 11th century is scarce known by the rest of the world; but the glory of that county’s having had one of her kings a Martyr is known throughout the whole Church. This power, possessed by the Spouse of Christ, of conferring honor on the name and actions of the servants and friends of God, is one of the grandest spectacles out of Heaven; for when She holds up a name as worthy of honor, that name becomes immortalized, whether he who bore it were a powerful king or the poorest peasant. We find the following life of this holy King formerly given in the Lessons of the Breviary:

St. Canute was conspicuous for his faith, piety, and purity of life, and even from his infancy gave proof of exceeding holiness. Having been elected to the throne held by his father, he at once began zealously to promote religion, to add to the revenues of the Churches, and to provide the same with costly fittings and furniture. Being also inflamed with zeal for the propagation of the Faith, he did not refuse to enter into just war with barbarous nations, which, when he had conquered and subdued, he subjected to the Laws of Christ. Having obtained several glorious victories, and increased the riches of his treasury, he laid his regal diadem at the feet of a Crucifix, offering himself and his kingdom to Him Who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He chastised his body by fasting, hair-shirts and disciplines. He was assiduous in prayer and contemplation, generous in his alms to the poor, and ever kind to all, never deviating from the path of justice and the Divine Commandments.

By these and other such virtues the holy King made rapid strides to the summit of perfection. Now it happened that William, Duke of Normandy, invaded the Kingdom of England with a formidable army, and the English sought assistance from the Danes. The King resolved to grant them his aid, and entrusted the expedition to his brother Olaf. But he, from the desire he had of getting possession of the throne, turned his forces against the King, and stirred up the soldiers and the people to rebellion. Neither were pretexts wanting for this rebellion; for the King had issued laws commanding the payment of ecclesiastical tithes, the observance of the Commandments of God and His Church, and the infliction of penalties on defaulters; all which were made use of by perverse and wicked malcontents, for spreading discontent, exciting the people to revolt, and at last, to plot the death of the saintly King.

Foreknowing what was to happen, the King saw that he would soon be put to death for justice’ sake. Having foretold it, he set out to Obdense, where, entering into the Church of St. Alban the Martyr, as the place of combat, he fortified himself with the Sacraments, and commended this his last struggle to the Lord. He had not long been there, when a band of conspirators arrived. They endeavored to set fire to the Church, to burst open the doors, and to force an entrance. But failing in this, they scaled the windows, and with great violence threw a shower of stones and arrows upon the holy King, who was on his knees, praying for his enemies. Wounded by the stones and arrows, and at last pierced through with a spear, he was crowned with a glorious martyrdom, and fell before the altar with his arms outstretched, during the reign of Pope St. Gregory VII. God showed how glorious was His Martyr; and Denmark was afflicted with a great famine and various calamities, in punishment for the sacrilegious murder which had been perpetrated. Many persons, who were afflicted with various maladies, found aid and health by praying at the tomb of the Martyr. On one occasion, when the Queen endeavored during the night to take up his body secretly and carry it to another place, she was deterred from her design by being struck with fear at the sight of a most brilliant light, which came down from Heaven.

O holy King! The Sun of Justice had risen upon thy country, and all thy ambition was that thy people might enjoy the fullness of its light and warmth. Like the Magi of the East, thou didst lay thy crown at the feet of the Emmanuel, and at length didst offer thy very life in His service and in that of His Church. But thy people were not worthy of thee; they shed thy blood, as the ungrateful Israel shed the Blood of the Just One Who is now born unto us, and Whose sweet Infancy we are now celebrating. Thou didst offer thy martyrdom for the sins of thy people; offer it now also for them, that they may recover the true Faith they have so long lost. Pray for all who strive to persevere as true Catholics in our times; and, as thou didst give thy life in defense of the Commandments of God and His Church, and especially of the duty of tithing, obtain for the faithful a respect for the true Church and fidelity in their duties towards Her. Ask for us of the Divine Infant a devotedness in His cause like that which glowed in thy breast; and since we have not a crown to lay at His Feet, pray for us that we may be generous enough to give Him our hearts. (1)

St Canute is regarded as the patron of Denmark. (7)  His emblems, a lance or arrows, in memory of the manner of his death. (6)

Image: The death of Canute IV of Denmark in the Church of Saint Albanus (1086), artist: Christian Albrecht von Benzon, circa  

Research by REGINA Staff


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