Posted by: anna | December 3, 2009

St Edmund king and martyr

Today we commemorate another very well-known English saint, St. Edmund, king of England and martyr (869). Above is a manuscript image from a late 15th century English manuscript, BL MS Yates-Thomson 47 f.54, ‘Miniature of the discovery of Edmund’s head with a scroll with gold inscription ‘heer heer herr’, with a wolf guarding it, and a man blowing a horn, in John Lydgate’s Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund.’ The Middle English text transcribed is:

With wepyng teerys and voys moost lamentable
So as they soughte walkyng here and there
Wheer artow lovd our kyng moost agreable
Wheer artow Edmund shew us thyn hevely chere
The hed answeryd thryes heer heer heere
And nevir cesyd of al the long day
So for to crye tyl they cam wheer he lay

I particularly like the wolf, which faithfully guarded the head until it was found.
There is no way to make this Life any shorter, so I draw on David Farmer’s admirable conciseness:
‘Edmund (Eadmund) (841–69), king of East Anglia and martyr. Born of Saxon stock, Edmund was brought up as a Christian and became king of the East Angles before 865. In 869–70 the Great Army of the Vikings, under Ingwar, invaded East Anglia. Edmund led his army against them, but was defeated and captured. He refused to deny the Christian faith or to rule as Ingwar’s vassal. He was then killed, whether by being scourged, shot with arrows, and then beheaded, as the traditional account relates, or by being ‘spread-eagled’ as an offering to the gods in accordance with Viking practice elsewhere. His death took place at Hellesden (Suffolk); his body was buried in a small wooden chapel near by. In c.915 his body was found to be incorrupt and was transferred to nearby Bedricsworth (later called Bury St. Edmunds). In 925 King Athelstan founded a community of two priests and four deacons to take care of the shrine. The landing of another Danish army at Ipswich in 1010 placed it in danger, so its custodian removed it to London, where it remained for three years. In spite of local resistance it was returned to Bury.

‘By now the cult, which, like those of Oswald and Ethelbert, fulfilled the ideals of Old English heroism, provincial independence, and Christian sanctity, had grown considerably. The earliest evidence for it is on 9th-century East Anglian coins inscribed ‘Sc Eadmund rex’, while the Life by Abbo of Fleury based on the memoirs of Edmund’s armour-bearer transmitted by Dunstan, was written at Ramsey in c.986. King Cnut in 1020 ordered a stone church to be built at Bury and the clerks to be reformed by Benedictine monks. His policy of reconciliation between Danes and Anglo-Saxons through reparation for his compatriots’ misdeeds found expression in 1028, when he gave his abbey a charter of jurisdiction over the town which was growing up around the abbey, together with notable land endowments. Edward the Confessor continued this policy and extended the jurisdiction over most of West Suffolk in 1044. Bury soon became one of the most important and powerful of the English Benedictine abbeys.

‘In 1095 Edmund’s body was translated to the large new Norman church; in 1198 it was re-enshrined, as was vividly described by Jocelin of Brakelond. By the 11th century Edmund’s feast figures prominently in monastic calendars in southern England and later in that of Sarum. More than sixty churches in England are dedicated to Edmund.

‘His cult has left notable artistic record. A fine illustrated Life, written at Bury c.1130, survives at New York (J. P. Morgan Library, MS. 736). A later verse Life, written and illustrated by John Lydgate, monk of Bury, is in the British Library (MS. Harley 2278); it was presented to King Henry VI in 1439. There are also notable paintings of Edmund in the Albani Psalter and the Queen Mary Psalter [BL MS Royal 2 B VII], but the most famous representation of him is in the Wilton Diptych (National Gallery, London), where he and Edward the Confessor are depicted as two royal patrons of England who present King Richard II to the Virgin and Child. In East Anglia ten screen-paintings of Edmund survive, as do several mural paintings in different parts of England. His most usual emblem is an arrow, the supposed instrument of his passion, or else a wolf, who was believed to have guarded his head after death. It was also claimed that his head and body were miraculously rejoined, but if he was never beheaded there is no extraordinary phenomenon to explain.

‘After the battle of Lincoln in 1217, the defeated French soldiers claimed to have removed his body to France. Some of these relics (from Saint-Sernin, Toulouse) were offered to Westminster Cathedral in 1912. M. R. James and other scholars protested that these relics were not authentic and that Edmund’s body remained at Bury until the Reformation, where it was reburied on a site at present unknown. The proposed translation was therefore abandoned. There are no clear Bury documents about his body after 1198: the cult at Toulouse is supported by documents and a mural painting from the 15th century onwards. Following the deliverance of Toulouse from the plague (c.1630) these relics were re-enshrined and Edmund’s cult flourished there for over 250 years. Feast: 20 November ; translation, 29 April . ‘

– “Edmund” The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. David Hugh Farmer. Oxford University Press 2003. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Oxford. 4 December 2009


  • Martyrdom of St Edmund by Abbo of Fleury
  • also from Orthodox England, a Service to St Edmund, the Small Supplicatory Canon to St Edmund, a sermon given on St Edmund’s feast, and Fr Andrew’s own story of his strong affinity with St Edmund. It is unfortunate that a site with such rich resources of information has such lamentable indexing…
Troparion, Tone 4
In his sufferings the martyr King Edmund exchanged an earthly crown for a heavenly one, and, making glad in thy strength, O Christ our God, he overcame his tormentors and laid low the vanities of the demons. Now let all the peoples of this land make glad with him that through his praises our souls may be saved.

Holy St Edmund, king and martyr, pray to God for us.



  1. My Dh is not Orthodox, but I still consider him under the patronage of St. Edmund. Holy St. Edmund, pray to God for us.

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