Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday, 18 March 2013

St Edward the Martyr

Today is the feast day of St Edward the Martyr, and this year is the 1,035th anniversary of his murder early in the evening of March 18th 978 at Corfe in Dorset. The killing of the teenage King, who had succeeded to the throne in 975, appears to have been so as to place his younger half-brother Ethelred, then a child, and not himself involved in any such conspiracy, on the throne. As King Ethelred II he was the most assiduous proponant of his half-brother's cult, but historians have seen the regicide of 987 as undermining from the very beginning the moral basis of King Ethelred's authority.


St Edward the Martyr
A modern icon of the martyr King

There is an illustrated online account of  St Edward's life and reign here and of his cult here.

The excellent account of his life in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Cyril Hart can be read here.
Following rather ignominious burial at Wareham his body was translated to Shaftesbury and the great abbey of nuns there housed his relics and was a place of pilgrimage until the sixteenth century. There is an online account of the abbey here. Only foundations remain of the church, but the relics themselves were re-discovered during excavations in 1931, and confirmed as being of the right date and character in 1970. I recall seeing them - or possibly  pictures of them - on my visit to the abbey site in 1972.

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A plan of the abbey at Shaftesbury

Image:British History online

Following a protracted legal dispute over custody of the relics, during which they were held in a bank vault, they are now with the St Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood at Brookwood Cemetary in Surrey. I did not manage to accompany friends on past visits at Easter from Ascot Priory when I used to spend the Triduum there.  The website of the Brotherhood has a section about St Edward which can be viewed here. It is good that the relics are once again a focus of devotion, but it is rather sad that after so many centuries at Shaftesbury that they should be removed elsewhere.

St Edward's cult survived in the Church of England in that he remained in the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer. Here in Oxford the Tractarian Thomas Chamberlain as Vicar of St Thomas' in the nineteenth century founded a number of schools for both boys and girls, the only one of which survives is St Edward's under the patronage of the boy-martyr King. It was the association of St Edward with the monastic reforms of St Dunstan which probably inspired Canon Chamberlain, as well as the Tractarian attempt to recover devotion to English medieval saints. The school incorporates in its arms the heraldic bearings assigned in later centuries to the Kings of the house of Wessex and uses as a badge the dagger and cup symbols of St Edward's martyrdom.

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