King St. Edmund, Martyr (c. AD 841 – 869)

[#12 in the series This Week in English Catholic History: Week of November 18 – 24]

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HIS week, on November 20, the Ordinariates honor King St. Edmund, Martyr. St. Edmund was born in Nuremburg, Germany in 841. He was crowned the King of East Anglia on Christmas Day, 855 at the age of 14 by Bishop St. Humbert of Elmham. He was a model king who treated his subjects with justice. He spent an entire year memorizing all 150 Psalms by heart. He was martyred by the Vikings when they invaded East Anglia in 869.

The story of St. Edmund’s martyrdom comes from Abbo of Fleury in 986, writing on behalf of St. Dunstan, who heard it from an old man that had been St. Edmund’s shield-bearer:

King Edmund, against whom Ivar advanced, stood inside his hall, and mindful of the Saviour, threw out his weapons. He wanted to match the example of Christ, who forbade Peter to win the cruel Jews with weapons. Lo! the impious one then bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. In between the whip lashes, Edmund called out with true belief in the Saviour Christ. Because of his belief, because he called to Christ to aid him, the heathens became furiously angry. They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog (just like St. Sebastian was). When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so. While Edmund still called out to Christ, the heathen dragged the holy man to his death, and with one stroke struck off his head, and his soul journeyed happily to Christ…

It was also a great miracle that a wolf was sent, through the guidance of God, to protect that head both day and night from the other animals. The people went searching and also calling out, just as the custom is among those who often go into the wood: “Where are you now, friend?” And the head answered them: “Here, here, here,” and called out the answer to them as often as any of them called out, until they came to it as a result of the calling. There lay the grey wolf who watched over that head, and had the head clasped between his two paws. The wolf was greedy and hungry, but because of God he dared not eat the head, but protected it against animals. The people were astonished at the wolf’s guardianship and carried home with them the holy head, thanking almighty God for all His miracles.

After killing St. Edmund, the Great Heathen Army invaded in 870, where they fought King Ethelred and his brother, the future King St. Alfred the Great. The place of St. Edmund’s death became known as Bury St. Edmunds. Over time, St. Edmund became known as the patron saint of England, and different churches, abbeys, and shrines grew up around Bury St. Edmunds. It grew very prosperous from the gifts of pilgrims.

King Canute, the Viking King of England, converted to Christianity and rebuilt the shrine that his Viking ancestors had destroyed. In 1010, he visited the shrine and laid his crown on the shrine in atonement for the sins of his forefathers.

In 1539, King Henry VIII destroyed the shrine, confiscated its silver and gold, expelled its monks, and dissolved the Abbey.

Collect for the Feast of St. Edmund the Martyr:

O God of inexpressible mercy, who gloriously enabled the most blessed king Edmund to overcome the enemy by dying for your name, grant, in your mercy, to us your servants that by his intercession we may overcome and extinguish the temptations of the old enemy, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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For a weekly dose of English Catholic Patrimony, if your Ordinariate parish or parochial community would like to receive This Week in English Catholic History in advance in single page black-and-white pdf form (perhaps inserted in the bulletin), please contact us at <foster1452@gmail.com>, and we will be happy to oblige, gratis

Written by Mr. John Burford, IV and Dr. Foster Lerner of Incarnation Catholic Church in Orlando, Florida; a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter © 2018.

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John (wearing purple tie, above) is the founder and owner of Magnolia Prep, an SAT and ACT tutoring business with branches in several major US cities. Foster (wearing golden tie, above) holds a Doctorate in Medicine from  Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in medicine.

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