St. Edward, King and Confessor

Posted by Fr. Mason Waldhauser on

Today is the feast of the Translation of St. Edward, King and Confessor. We've been on a kick of English saints, with Paulinus, Wilfrid, and now Edward. He lived from 1003 to 1066 and is the first Anglo-Saxon to have been canonized a saint (which happened a little less than a hundred years after his death).

He seems to have been somewhat worldly in his involvement with the Church. At one point, he rejected the man who was elected Archbishop of Canterbury and put his own man in instead, which led to a lot of political conflict. He must have had some apparent holiness of life, however, because his cult began very shortly after his death.

These are the three reasons I found for why he came to be venerated as a saint. First, he reigned over England right in-between the viking invasions and the Norman conquest, and so he was an especially patriotic saint to be venerated. Second, he built Westminster Abbey. See, he had made a vow to God that if the Lord would restore the good fortune of his family, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome; but being prevented, the Pope released him from the vow on the condition that instead he would dedicate a monastery to St. Peter - and so he founded Westminster Abbey, where he was buried.

And third, Edward is known for having a special love for the poor. He did away with an unpopular tax and took what had been collected and distributed it to the poor. On another occasion, he is said to have given a golden ring of his as alms to a beggar, who was actually St. John the Evangelist in disguise. For this reason, he is depicted holding a ring as his attribute.

So for each of these reasons, his cult took off shortly after his death, and it was promulgated by the monks at Westminster Abbey. About fifty years after his death, and then again about a hundred years after that, they moved his body ("translated his relics") to a different location in the Abbey, and each time, found it to be uncorrupt (which also helped the case for his canonization).

And it is no wonder, that even if he was somewhat worldly in his dealings with the Church, he was holy by virtue of his almsgiving. Let me close with a quote from one of the Fathers on this point (St. Maximus the Confessor):

"Almsgiving is another kind of washing of souls, so that if perchance anyone has sinned through human frailty after baptism, there is still the possibility of being cleansed by almsgiving, as the lord says: Give alms, and behold, everything is clean for you. But (with due regard to the faith) I would say that almsgiving is more indulgent than baptism. For baptism is given once and bestows pardon once, whereas as many times as alms are bestowed pardon is granted. These are the two fonts of mercy, which give life and forgive sins."

... Oh, and one final point. The shrine of St. Edward that I mentioned is an interesting bit of history to pay attention to during the English Reformation. One of my professors was telling me in seminary, that even though you wouldn't expect it at that time, yet a daily Mass (like what we're celebrating here at St. Mary's) was held at that shrine through all the ups and downs of reform, nor were his relics destroyed. One of the Thirty-Nine Articles, at first glance, seems to speak disparagingly of relics, and the saying of Masses in the Reformation decreased greatly - and yet, in a reformed Church of England, daily Mass was said at the shrine where his relics lay; so thanks to Edward's shrine, we have a data-point for how the Articles were being interpreted in a catholic direction.