Today is the memorial of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr. The photographs above were taken during a 2015 pilgrimage stop at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Adjacent to the Anglican cathedral (which the former parish church of St James became in 1914 with the creation of the Anglican Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich) lie the ruins of Bury St Edmunds Abbey. The abbey, destroyed in 1539, was home to St Edmund’s shrine, and was one of the major pilgrimage sites in mediaeval England. Thanks to the kindness of the cathedral authorities I was fortunate enough to be able to able to offer Mass according to Divine Worship: The Missal in the Lady Chapel.
‘Edmund the blessed, king of the East Angles, was wise and honourable and by his excellent conduct, ever glorified almighty God. He was humble and devout, and continued so steadfast that he would not yield to shameful sins, nor bend aside his practices in any direction, always mindful of the counsel that if you are made a chief, do not exalt yourself but be amongst men as one of them. He was bountiful to the poor and to widows, even like a father, benignly guiding his people towards righteousness, controlling the violent, and living happily in the true faith. At last the Danes came with a fleet, harrying and slaying widely over the land. They landed in Northumbria, wasted the land and slew the people. Hingwar, one of their leaders, sent a threatening message to King Edmund, who undismayed turned to their messenger and said, “Truly you deserve to die, but I will not defile my clean hands with your foul blood, because I follow Christ who has given us an example. Depart now quickly, and say to your cruel lord: Edmund the king will never bow in life to Hingwar the heathen leader, unless he will in faith first bow, in this land, to Jesus Christ”. The messenger, leaving quickly, met the bloodthirsty Hingwar on the way with all his army hurrying to Edmund, and told that wicked man how he was answered. Hingwar then arrogantly commanded his troops that they should take the king who had despised his command and instantly bind him.
Edmund stood within his hall, mindful of the Saviour, and threw away his weapons, desiring to imitate the example of Christ who forbade Peter to fight with weapons against the bloodthirsty Jews. Then those wicked men bound Edmund, shamefully insulted him and beat him with clubs, and afterward they led the faithful king to a tree, tied him to it with hard bonds, and scourged him, while with true faith he called between the blows on Jesus Christ. The heathen were madly angry, because he called on Christ to help him. They shot at him with javelins as if for their amusement, until he was covered with their shots, as with a porcupine’s bristles, just as Sebastian was. When Hingwar, the wicked seaman, saw that the noble king would not deny Christ but with steadfast faith called upon him, he commanded men to behead him, and while he was still calling upon Christ, the heathen drew away the saint and with one blow struck off his head; and his soul departed joyfully to Christ’.
from the Lives of the Saints by Aelfric of Eynsham, c.955-c.1010
O God of unspeakable mercy, who didst give thy blessed Saint Edmund grace to overcome the enemy by dying for thy Name: mercifully grant to us thy servants; that by his intercession we may be found worthy to conquer and subdue the temptations of our ancient adversary; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon