Edmund the Martyr


Edmund the Martyr : biography

841 – 20 November 869

The ancient wooden church of St Andrew, Greensted-juxta-Ongar, is said to have been a resting place for his body on the way to Bury St Edmunds in 1013


St Edmund in the arts

The veneration of Edmund throughout the centuries has left a legacy of noteworthy works of art.

A beautifully illustrated copy of Abbo of Fleury’s Passio Santi Eadmundi, made at Bury St Edmunds in around 1130 is now kept at the Morgan Library in New York.

The copy of John Lydgate’s 15th century Life written for Henry VI of England is now in the British Library.John Lydgate’s This can be viewed at the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts website. The Wilton Diptych was painted during the reign of Richard II of England and is the most famous representation of Edmund in art. Painted on oak panels, it shows Richard kneeling in front of three saints—one of whom is Edmund—as they present the young king to the Virgin and Child.http://www.history.ac.uk/richardII/wilton.html ‘The Wilton Diptych’, in the Richard II’s Treasure website.

The poet John Lydgate (1370–1451), who lived all his life in Bury St Edmunds, presented his twelve-year-old king Henry VI of England with a long poem (now known as Metrical Lives of Saints Edmund and Fremund) when Henry came to the town in 1433 and stayed at the abbey for four months.Frantzen, Bloody Good, pp. 66–67. The book is now kept by the British Library in London.

Edmund’s martyrdom features on several mediaeval wall-paintings to be found in churches across England.Churches with surviving wall paintings of Edmund can be found at website: D to F.

The market town of Bury St Edmunds features several representations of St Edmund, most notably a recently commissioned contemporary artwork designed by Emmanuel O’Brien, constructed by Nigel Kaines of Designs on Metal in 2011.

Edmund appears as a fictional character in Bernard Cornwell’s novel The Last Kingdom.

The saint features in a romantic poem, Athelston, whose 15th-century author is unknown. In the climactic scene of the poem, Edyff, the sister of King ‘Athelston’ of England, gives birth to Edmund after passing through a ritual ordeal by fire.Field, Christianity and Romance, p. 140.

Memorial coinage

A St Edmund memorial penny.

Edmund’s body was buried in a wooden chapel near to where he was killed, but was later transferred to Beadoriceworth, where in 925 Athelstan founded a community devoted to the new cult.Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints: Edmund Thirty years after Edmund’s death, he was venerated by the Vikings of East Anglia, who produced a coinage to commemorate him.Grierson and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, p. 305. The coinage was minted from around 895 to 915 (close to the time when East Anglia was conquered by Edward the Elder of Wessex) and was based on the design of coins produced during Edmund’s reign. All the pennies and (more rarely) half-pennies that were produced read SCE EADMVND REX—’O St Edmund the king!’. Some of them have a legend that provides evidence that the Vikings experimented with their initial design.Grierson and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, p. 320.

The St. Edmund memorial coins were minted in great quantities by a group of more than 70 moneyers, many of whom appear to have originated from the continent: over 1800 individual specimens were found when the great Cuerdale Hoard was discovered in 1840.Grierson and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, p. 319. The coins would have been widely used within the Danelaw and many single items have mainly been found in the east of England, but the exact locations of the mints where they were made are not known with certainty: scholars have assumed that they were made in East Anglia.Grierson and Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, p. 320.

King of the East Angles

Accession and rule

Edmund is first mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle annal for 870, which was compiled twenty years after his death. By tradition, Edmund is thought to have been born in 841 and to have acceded to the East Anglian throne in around 855.Ridyard, The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England, p. 61. Nothing is known of his life or reign, as no contemporary East Anglian documents from this period have survived. The devastation in East Anglia that was caused by the Vikings is thought to have destroyed any books or charters that referred to EdmundYorke, Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England, p. 58. and the lack of contemporary evidence means that it is not known for certain when his reign began, or his age when he became king. Later mediaeval chroniclers have provided dubious accounts of his life, in the absence of any real details.