Who was St Edmund the Martyr?

St Edmund

St Edmund the Martyr. Image source

Born in either 841 or 842, St Edmund was an English King whose dominion spanned large parts of East Anglia. After he was brutally executed by the invading  Vikings (the Great Heathen Army), King Edmund attained sainthood and relatively large cult following for over four centuries. Today, Edmund is largely venerated as the first Saint of England. The following are some frequently asked questions about St Edmund, King of East Anglia:

When did he become king of East Anglia?

St Edmund the Martyr

13th-Century depiction of Edmund being crowned king by heavenly angels.

Edmund became king of East Anglia around about 855 AD. There are two accounts of his origins. The first account, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s account, states that Edmund was a native of East Anglia. In this account, Edmund is seen as the son of Æthelweard, king of East Anglia. Edmund inherited the throne from his father at the age of 14. Edmund went on to rule East Anglia from around 855 to 869.

Another account places his origin in Continental Saxon, claiming that he was born in Nürnberg. Shortly after his birth, he was adopted by the king of East Anglia, Offa. The story goes on to say that Offa, on his way to Rome, encountered the young Edmund. Shortly after that, he took Edmund in as his son. In this account of Edmund’s roots, his parents were Alkmund and Scivare.

How did St Edmund die?

Long before Edmund became king, the people of East Anglia always had to contend with marauding and deadly raids from the Vikings who predominantly sailed from Denmark. Their houses and farms were constantly ransacked by the Danes. Some believe that it was Ragnar Lothbrok’s son, Ivar the Boneless, who orchestrated the raids on East Anglia.

The East Anglians called the invading Vikings the “Great Heathen Army”. They were fearless Norse sailors who would go on, for centuries, rampage across the shores of both England and France. As a result, they earned the infamous title, the Scourge of England and France.

In one such raid, probably in 869 AD, King Edmund’s army and defenses were completely overran. The king was taken prisoner by the Viking army. Other historians and legends claim that Edmund died in battle. The common assertion among historians is that he was captured.

While in captivity, Edmund was constantly asked to renounce his Christian faith. Edmund vehemently opposed to do so. After several attempts failed, the Danes grew impatient and tied him to a tree. He was then shot with numerous arrows. Subsequently, the Danes decapitated him and scattered his body and head in different directions.

When did St Edmund die?

how St Edmund died

Art depicting the death of Edmund the Martyr on 20 November 869 at the hands of the Vikings.

Legend has it that he died in 869 AD. This was after he was tortured and beaten to pulp. The order to kill King Edmund most likely came from the Vikings’ commander-in-chief, Ivar the Boneless. Some say it was Ivar’s brother, Ubba, who issued the execution order.

Where did he die?

Many people believe that Edmund was killed around Haegelisdun. However, like most of the Middle Ages’ stories and chronicles about St Edmund, this cannot be accurately proven.

Where was St Edmund buried?

After the Danes decapitated King Edmund, his lifeless body and head were placed at different places. His head, which was thrown deep into the forest, was found by his followers after they followed the cries of a wolf. Some believed that it was the manifestation of the divine that led the searchers to his decapitated head.

After recovering his body, the head was fused back to the body. In 903 AD, Edmund’s body was buried at the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Bedricsworth (also called Beodericsworth – modern-day Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk). The place later became the Bury of St Edmunds. It went on to serve as a shrine for the next three centuries or so.

At one point back in the past (likely in the year 1010), Edmund’s remains were temporarily moved to a secret location, probably London. This was done in anticipation of a Danish invasion. After the dust settled over East Anglia, the remains were returned to Bedricsworth.

Edmund’s burial place achieved notoriety as a place of worship, receiving several visitors from all over Europe. Several English kings and rulers also frequented the place. In 1020, King Canute gave the place a facelift by building a stone church (the Great Abbey Church) in honor of St Edmund. The shrine that housed Edmund’s remains was decorated with gold and silver engravings. Canute also gave several handsome donations and offerings to the first abbots of the place. As time passed, the place came to be known as the Abbey of St Edmund.

When did Edmond become the patron saint of England?

white dragon flag

English Anglo-Saxon White Dragon Flag was often carried in honor of St Edmund.

King Edmund the Martyr’s veneration started around the later part of the 10th century A.D. Many chroniclers have stated that it was exactly 30 years after his death. Therefore, from around that period onward Edmund, the Martyr, officially became the patron saint of England, although temporarily.

Where is St Edmund’s final resting place?

After cutting ties with the Catholic faith, Henry VIII thought it wise to dissolve the Monasteries of the Great Abbey Church. This occurred in 1539. The shrine was then moved to a secret location. Some claim that Edmond’s remains were permanently and quietly buried in the monks’ cemetery.

In any case, some of his remains made their way to France after the shrine got torn down. Those remains were in France up until the time they were brought back to England in 1911. Today, what is left of St Edmund’s possessions are placed in the chapel at the Arundel Castle.

Why was St Edmund killed?

It is commonly believed that he died at the hands of the invading Danes (i.e. Vikings). Several arrows were shot into the tied-up Edmund. He met this sad fate because he vehemently refused to renounce his Christian faith.

What is St Edmund the patron saint of?

From the 11th century up until 1348, St Edmund was primarily known as the patron saint of England. However, he lost this title to St George. This occurred during the reign of Edward III.

In reality, the change of patron saint of England actually occurred around the 12th century. Rather than visit the shrine of St Edmond, King Richard I preferred calling on the help of  St George before going to war in the Third Crusade. Ever since then St George was increasingly regarded as the patron saint of England.

In most major churches, St Edmund is considered the patron saint of kings; pandemics; torture victims; wolves; the Roman Catholic Diocese of East Anglia; Suffolk County in England; and Douai Abbey, Toulouse.

Back in the Middle Ages, the English flew the Anglo-Saxon White Dragon Flag in honor of St Edmond.

When is the feast day of St Edmund celebrated?

The feast day of St Edmund is 20th November every year.

Which is Bury St Edmunds?

Bury St Edmunds is located in Suffolk County, East England. Bury St Edmunds is home to the famous St Edmundsbury Cathedral.

What are some of the modern places in England that fall under East Anglia?

Today, East Anglia is primarily made up of Norfolk and Suffolk. Some parts of Cambridgeshire and Essex could also be considered part of East Anglia. The most famous town in the place has got to be Norwich. The town hosts giant cathedrals as well the University of East Anglia.

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