20 Nov Saint Edmund, Martyr, King
Today is the feast day of Saint Edmund. Ora pro nobis.
Edmund was born of Saxon stock and was brought up a Christian. Though only about fifteen years old when crowned on Christmas Day 855, Edmund showed himself a model ruler from the first, treating all his people with equal justice, and known as refusing to listen to flatterers and informers. In his eagerness for prayer he retired for a year to his royal tower at Hunstanton in Norfolk where he learned the whole Psalter by heart, so he could afterwards recite it regularly.
In 870 he bravely repulsed the two Danish chiefs Hinguar and Hubba who had invaded his dominions. They soon returned with overwhelming numbers, and pressed terms upon him which as a Christian he felt bound to refuse. In his desire to avert a fruitless massacre, he disbanded his troops and himself retired towards Framlingham; on the way he fell into the hands of the invaders. Having loaded him with chains, his captors conducted him to Hinguar, whose impious demands he again rejected, declaring his religion dearer to him than his life.
Edmund was tied to a tree and whipped at Hoxne in Suffolk. He bore this torture patiently, calling on the name of Jesus. At last worn out by his constancy, the Vikings began to shoot arrows at him until his body looked like that of a hedgehog. At this stage, Hinguar commanded his head to be cut off. Edmund was 29 years old. From his first burial-place at Hoxne his relics were taken in the tenth century to Beodricsworth, since called Bury St. Edmunds, where a shrine and abbey were erected in his honour.
Devotion to St. Edmund the martyr became very popular in England. Many churches were dedicated in his honor. He was regarded as patron saint of England until during the reign of Henry II (1154-89), he was partly eclipsed by St Edward the Confessor (1003-66). The cult of St George came to England with knights returning from the Crusades at the end of the twelfth century and it was during the reign of King Edward III (1327-77) who dedicated a chapel at Windsor Castle to the soldier that George came to be recognised as the patron saint of the English monarchy. There is a campaign to have St Edmund reinstated as England’s patron.
Edmund’s body was buried in a wooden chapel near to where he was killed, but was later transferred to Beadoriceworth (modern Bury St Edmunds), where in 925 Athelstan founded a community devoted to the new cult. During the 11th century a stone church was built in Bury St. Edmunds, which was replaced by a larger church in 1095, into which Edmund’s relics were translated. Edmund’s shrine was destroyed in 1539, during the English Reformation. According to a letter (which now belongs to the Cotton Collection in the British Library), the shrine was defaced, and silver and gold to the value of over 5000 marks was taken away. After the Battle of Lincoln (1217), it was traditionally claimed that Edmund’s body was stolen by Count of Melun and subsequently donated to the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in the French city of Toulouse by the Dauphin (later Louis XIII of France). The first record of this is a relic list for Saint-Sernin of around 1425, which included St Edmund among the basilica’s relics.
In 1901, the Archbishop of Westminster, Herbert Vaughan, received some relics from the basilica of Saint-Sernin. The relics, believed at the time to be those of St Edmund, were intended for the high altar of London’s Westminster Cathedral, which was then under construction.
The acceptance of the relics required the intercession of Pope Leo XIII, after an initial refusal by the church in France. Upon their arrival in England, they were housed in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle, prior to their translation to Westminster. Although the relics had been verified and catalogued in 1644 for interment in the new shrine and in 1874 when two pieces were given to Cardinal Manning, concerns were raised by Dr. Montague James and Dr Charles Biggs about their validity in The Times. They remained at Arundel under the care of the Duke of Norfolk, whilst a historical commission was set up by Cardinal Vaughan and Archbishop Germain of Saint-Sernin. They remain to this day at Arundel. In 1966, three teeth from the collection of relics from France were donated to Douai Abbey.
St Edmund is represented in Christian art with sword and arrow, the instruments of his torture.
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff