Edmund the Martyr


Edmund the Martyr : biography

841 – 20 November 869

The body was buried in a coffin and later translated to Beodericsworth, but Abbo failed to date either events,Ridyard, The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England. p. 213. although from the text it can be seen that he believed that the relics had been taken to Beodericsworth by the time that Theodred became Bishop of London in around 926.Ridyard, The Royal Saints of Anglo-Saxon England. p. 231. Upon exhumation of the body, a miracle was discovered. All the arrow wounds upon Edmund’s corpse had healed and his head was reattached. The only evidence of decapitation was a line around his neck and his skin was still soft and fresh, as if he had been sleeping. The last recorded inspection of the body whilst at Bury St Edmunds was in 1198.

The resemblance between the deaths of Saint Sebastian and St Edmund was remarked upon by Abbo: both saints were attacked by archers, although only Edmund is supposed to have been decapitated. His death bears somes resemblance to the fate suffered by other saints: St Denis was whipped and beheaded and the body of Mary of Egypt was said to have been guarded by a lion.Gransden, Legends, Traditions and History in Medieval England, p. 87. Gransden describes Abbo’s Passio as "little more that a hotch-potch of hagiographical commonplaces" and argues that Abbo’s ignorance of what actually happened to Edmund would have led him to use aspects of the Lives of well known saints such as Sebastian and Denis as models for his version of Edmund’s martydom. Gransden acknowledges that there are some aspects of the story—such as the appearance of the wolf that guards Edmund’s head—that do not have exact parallels elsewhere.Gransden, Legends, Traditions and History in Medieval England, pp. 86–87.



In Bernard Burke’s Vicissitudes of Families, published in 1869, Burke proposed that Edmund’s banner was among those borne during the Norman invasion of Ireland, after which the three crowns on a blue background became the standard for Ireland during the Plantagenet era. Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Robert Fitz-Stephen and Raymond le Gros who all featured prominently in the Anglo-Norman invasion, dedicated a chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin to Edmund.Kennedy, The Arms of Ireland: Medieval and Modern, notes 2 and 3. When the Scottish castle at Caevlerlock was taken by Edward I of England in 1300, the banners of Edmund, St George and Edward the Confessor were displayed by the victorious English from the castle battlements, as "powerful, unifying symbols of the holy guardians and supporters of their cause".Altmann, The Court Reconvenes, p. 15. According to the antiquarian Sir Harris Nicolas’ account of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, five banners were flown on the English side, one of which was probably that of St Edmund.Nicolas, History of the Battle of Agincourt, p. 115.

In a preface to the Life of the saint written by the poet John Lydgate, in which Edmund’s banners are described,Frantzen, Bloody Good, pp. 68–69. the three crowns are said to represent Edmund’s martyrdom, virginity and kingship.Preble, Origin and History of the American Flag, p. 123


Edmund is the patron saint of pandemics and as well as of kings,Ball, Encyclopaedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices, p. 276. the Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia,Roman Catholic diocese of East Anglia . and Douai Abbey in Berkshire.. Churches dedicated to his memory are to be found all over England, including St Edmund the King and Martyr’s Church in London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren during the 1670s.

During the Middle Ages, St George replaced Edmund as the patron saint of England when Edward III associated George with the Order of the Garter. In 2006, a group that included BBC Radio Suffolk and the East Anglian Daily Times failed in their campaign to reinstore Edmund. In 2013 another campaign to reinstate St Edmund as patron saint was begun with the backing of representatives from businesses, Churches, radio and local politicians.