20 November 2007

St. Edmund, King and Martyr

The life and death of St. Edmund is an outstanding reminder of the great importance our English ancestors attached to their faith, an example we would do well to imitate today in our own lives. That Edmund was a king – and a very young one at that – with every opportunity to choose a less rigorous life make his exemplary faith all the more compelling.

Born in East Anglia in 841, Edmund was chosen king at an early age. His biographers are unanimous in stating he won the hearts of his people by his concern for all – rich and poor alike – and compassionate rule, in an age where violence and despotism were the norm. As a Christian, Edmund stood apart from many kings of his time. He rejected forcible conversions, endowed monasteries and churches by the score, and personally dispensed justice in accordance with Christian precepts, putting aside the much harsher Anglo-Saxon code.

In 869, at the age of 27, Edmund met his end at the hands of the Danish invader Ingvar, a pagan who sought Edmund’s throne. Twice offered his life if he would renounce his faith and kingdom, Edmund refused, declaring that his faith was more precious to him than his life, which he would not purchase by apostasy. Edmund paid for his faith with his life: he was scourged and then shot with arrows, deliberately aimed so as to inflict maximum pain while ensuring an agonizing death. In 915, his body was found to be incorrupt and his relics enshrined in the abbey at Bury St. Edmunds.