Edmund the Martyr


Edmund the Martyr : biography

841 – 20 November 869


Cult at Bury St Edmunds

During the 11th century a stone church was built in Bury St. Edmunds, which was replaced by a larger church in 1095, into which Edmund’s relics were translated. The abbey’s power grew upon being given jurisdiction over the growing town in 1028 and the creation in 1044, of the geographical and political area of the Liberty of Saint Edmund, established by Edward the Confessor, which remained a separate jurisdiction under the control of the abbot of Bury St Edmunds Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries.

The shrine at Bury St Edmunds soon became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England. In 1010, Edmund’s remains were translated to London to protect them from the Vikings, where they were kept for three years before being returned to Bury. For centuries the shrine was visited by various kings of England, many of whom gave generously to the abbey: Sweyn’s son, King Canute, converted to Christianity and rebuilt the abbey at Bury St Edmunds. In 1020, he made a pilgrimage and offered his own crown upon the shrine as atonement for the sins of his forefathers. King John is said to have given a great sapphire and a precious stone set in gold, which he was permitted to keep upon the condition that it was returned to the abbey when he died.Yates, History and Antiquities of the Abbey of St Edmunds Bury, part II p. 40.

The town arose as the wealth and fame of the abbey grew. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the abbot planned out over 300 new houses within a grid-iron pattern at a location that was close to the abbey precincts.Cantor, The English Medieval Landscape, p. 176. Edmund’s cult was promoted and flourished, but it declined in subsequent years and the saint did not reappear in any liturgical calendars until the appearance of Abbo of Fleury’s Passio Santi Eadmundi in the 12th century.Gransden, Legends, Traditions and History in Medieval England, pp. 82–83.

Edmund’s shrine was destroyed in 1539, during the English Reformation. According to a letter (which now belongs to the Cotton Collection in the British Library), the shrine was defaced, and silver and gold to the value of over 5000 marks was taken away. On 4 November 1539 the abbot and his monks were expelled and the abbey was dissolved.Yates, History and Antiquities of the Abbey of St Edmunds Bury, part I, pp. 232–235.

Cult at Toulouse

After the Battle of Lincoln (1217), it was traditionally claimed that Edmund’s body was stolen by Count of Melun and subsequently donated to the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in the French city of Toulouse by the Dauphin (later Louis XIII of France). The first record of this is a relic list for Saint-Sernin of around 1425, which included St Edmund among the basilica’s relics. After the city was saved from the plague in the years from 1628 to 1631 — by the saint’s intercessions — the city built, in 1644, a new shrine for his relics in gratitude for its deliverance: his cult flourished there for over two centuries. Edmund’s shrine was of silver and adorned with solid silver statues and when his relics were translated to it, the population came for eight days to honour the saint.Catholic World, pp. 104–105.

Relics at Arundel Castle

In 1901, the Archbishop of Westminster, Herbert Vaughan, received some relics from the basilica of Saint-Sernin. The relics, believed at the time to be those of St Edmund, were intended for the high altar of London’s Westminster Cathedral, which was then under construction.

The acceptance of the relics required the intercession of Pope Leo XIII, after an initial refusal by the church in France. Upon their arrival in England, they were housed in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle, prior to their translation to Westminster. Although the relics had been verified and catalogued in 1644 for interment in the new shrine and in 1874 when two pieces were given to Cardinal Manning, concerns were raised by Dr. Montague James and Dr Charles Biggs about their validity in The Times. They remained at Arundel under the care of the Duke of Norfolk, whilst a historical commission was set up by Cardinal Vaughan and Archbishop Germain of Saint-Sernin. They remain to this day at Arundel. In 1966, three teeth from the collection of relics from France were donated to Douai Abbey.