Saint Edward the Confessor

October 13

Today is the feast day of Saint Edward the Confessor.  Ora pro nobis.

King of England, born in 1003.  He was the son of Ethelred II and Emma, daughter of Duke Richard of Normandy, being thus half-brother to King Edmund Ironside, Ethelred’s son by his first wife, and to King Hardicanute, Emma’s son by her second marriage with Canute. When hardly ten years old he was sent with his brother Alfred into Normandy to be brought up at the court of the duke his uncle, the Danes having gained the mastery in England.

Saint Edward the Confessor

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

St. Edward III., grandson of the holy King and Martyr, Edward, was born in England, but educated in Normandy, by his maternal uncle, as the Danes had conquered and devastated England. In the midst of the sensuality of the world and the temptations to all possible frivolities, Edward, while still very young, endeavored to lead so retired and innocent a life, that he was admired by all, and was called the Angel of the court. He took no pleasure in those amusements in which young princes generally delight, but found his greatest joy in prayer and study. His devotion at Church during holy Mass was truly wonderful; and no time spent there seemed to him too long. He had the greatest horror for everything that was in the least contrary to angelical chastity. No immodest word ever passed his lips, and none was ever uttered in his presence without being severely censured by him. The long absence from his home and kingdom he bore with the most admirable patience, and when, one day, some courtiers said to him that he must regain his kingdom by force of arms, he said, that he did not desire a crown which must be won by shedding blood. But when the Danes had been driven from English soil, and peace restored throughout the land, the nobility recalled Edward from exile and placed him upon the throne.

The new King bestowed his first care on the restoration of the prosperity of the kingdom, and to this end, he endeavored to revive the worship of the true God and to reform the corrupted morals of his subjects. The revenues taken from the church were restored to it; churches were repaired or rebuilt, together with many monasteries for religious men and women, whose duty it would be to restore the old religion and the fear of God throughout the land; for he used to say: “The most efficacious means to secure the happiness of a country is religion and the fear of God: for the well-being of a state depends mostly on the prosperity of its Church.” The nobility demanded that Edward should marry, that the kingdom might not be left without an heir to the throne. Edward, who had already made a vow of perpetual chastity, but was unwilling to reveal it, consented to their wish, and married Edith, the daughter of Count Godwin, but lived in continency until his end. To his subjects he was a most perfect model of all Christian virtues, and cared for their well-being like a tender father. He manifested special love to the poor and the orphans, whence he received the glorious title of Guardian of the orphans and Father of the poor. He was a wise and just administrator, gave every one free access to him, and allowed no one to depart without relief.

His leisure hours were spent in prayer and works of charity. He was never better satisfied than when he had almost emptied the royal treasury into the hands of the poor. Once, during holy Mass, at which he daily assisted with great devotion, he had the happiness of seeing our Lord in a most beautiful form surrounded by heavenly brightness. On Pentecost-day, God revealed to him, during holy Mass, that the king of Denmark, who intented to invade England, and who was already on sea, had perished. One day, while on his way to Church, he met a poor paralytic man, who was creeping slowly to the sacred edifice. The holy king took him upon his shoulders, and carried him thus into the house of God. This admirable work of charity God rewarded by immediately bestowing health upon the poor paralytic.

Besides the Queen of Heaven, the holy king specially honored St. John, as it is known that the latter lived always in chastity. In honor of this Saint, the king had made a vow to refuse nothing which should be asked of him in the holy Apostle’s name. It happened that St. John himself appeared to him in the form of a beggar. The king, having no money about him, took a ring from his finger, and gave it to the beggar. Some days afterwards, St. John appeared to two pilgrims and gave them the ring, with the request that they would take it to the king and tell him that he would die in six months, and be led into heaven by the holy Apostle. The king received this message joyfully, ordered prayers throughout the kingdom for himself and redoubled his works of charity and devotion. On the day appointed to him, after a short illness, and having devoutly received the holy Sacraments, he gave his spotless soul into the hands of his Creator, in the 36th year of his age, in 1066. Thirty-six years after his death, his holy body was exhumed and was found entirely incorrupt, while it exhaled so delicious a fragrance, that all who were present greatly rejoiced. (1)

Reputation for holiness
Edward was reputed to have been accessible to his subjects and generous to the poor. One story tells that he caught a servant stealing from him three times and three times let him away with it, saying: “He needs the gold more than I do”. He was also said to have had the cure of scrufola “by the king’s touch”. He played a major role in building Westminster Abbey and was buried there himself.

Campaign for canonisation – to authenticate Henry II
Others, however, say that his reputation for sanctity owes more to the campaign for his canonisation used to gain popularity by Henry II and written up by the monk of Wesminster Abbey Osbert de Clare. Edward’s Anglo-Saxon and Norman background would have been seen as advantageous in authenticating the status of Henry II, who was Norman, but lacked Edward’s Anglo-Saxon pedigree. Henry successfully secured this canonisation from Pope Alexander III in 1161 by supporting him against a Ghibelline antipope Victor IV. Aelred of Rievaulx preached at the solemn translation of his relics on 13 October 1163.

Patron of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses
The Roman Catholic Church regards Edward the Confessor as the patron saint of kings, difficult marriages, and separated spouses. After the reign of Henry II, Edward was considered the patron saint of England until 1348, when St. George, whose cult as a saint for soldiers had come to England during the Crusades, superseded him in this role. Edward, however, remained the patron saint of the English royal family.

Image: The left panel of the Wilton Diptych, where Saint Edward (centre), with Edmund the Martyr (left) and John the Baptist, are depicted presenting Richard II to the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. (12)

Research by REGINA Staff


Sign up for REGINA's weekly newsletter

  1. You will usually hear from us about once a week, usually on Sunday. 
  2. At other times, we may send a special email. 

To subscribe, go here!