30 Dec Saint Egwin, Bishop
Today is the feast day of Saint Egwin. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Egwin’s date of birth unknown. He died (according to Mabillon) 20 December, 720, though his death may have occurred three years earlier. His fame as founder of the great Abbey of Evesham no doubt tended to the growth of legends which, though mainly founded on facts, render it difficult to reconcile all the details with those of the ascertained history of the period.
It appears that either in 692, or a little later, upon the death of Oftfor, second Bishop of Worcester, Egwin, a prince of the Mercian blood royal, who had retired from the world and sought only the seclusion of religious life, was forced by popular acclaim to assume the vacant see. His biographers say that king, clergy, and commonalty all united in demanding his elevation; but the popularity which forced on him this reluctant assumption of the episcopal functions was soon wrecked by his apostolic zeal in their discharge.
The Anglo-Saxon population of the then young diocese had had less than a century in which to become habituated to the restraints of Christian morality. They as yet hardly appreciated the sanctity of Christian marriage, and the struggle of the English Benedictines for the chastity of the priesthood had already fairly begun. At the same time large sections of England were more or less permanently occupied by pagans closely allied in blood to the Anglo-Saxon Christians. Egwin displayed undaunted zeal in his efforts to evangelize the heathen and no less in the enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline. His rigorous policy towards his own flock created a bitter resentment which, as King Ethelred was his friend, could only find vent in accusations addressed to his ecclesiastical superiors.
Egwin undertook a pilgrimage to seek vindication from the Roman Pontiff himself. According to a legend, he prepared for his journey by locking shackles on his feet, and throwing the key into the River Avon. While he prayed before the tomb of the Apostles, at Rome, one of his servants brought him this very key — found in the maw of a fish that had just been caught in the Tiber. Egwin then released himself from his self-imposed bonds and straightway obtained from the pope an authoritative release from the load of obloquy which his enemies had striven to fasten upon him.
After his return, with the assistance of Coenred King of Mercia, St. Egwin founded the famous Abbey of Evesham. After this, he undertook a second journey to Rome, in company with both Coenred and King Offa of Essex. St. Egwin was buried in his Abbey at Evesham, to which his shrine brought many a medieval pilgrim. His relics were so popular that, when the abbey church required a major rebuilding in 1077, they were taken on a highly successful fund-raising tour of southern England, initiating miraculous cures at Dover, Oxford, Winchester and elsewhere. He is represented in art as a Bishop holding a fish with a key in its mouth. (2)
Image: stained glass of Saint Egwin (2)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff