Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Edward the Martyr's Death

Edward's murder at Corfe Castle
The death of the 16-year-old Edward the Martyr in 978 was not one of England's finest moments. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described it simply:
“This year was King Edward slain, at eventide, at Corfe-gate, on the fifteenth day before the calends of April. And he was buried at Wareham without any royal honour. No worse deed than this was ever done by the English nation since they first sought the land of Britain. Men murdered him but God has magnified him.” [Entry for 978]
The popular explanation, from later accounts, is that Ælfthryth gave him a poisoned cup, or gave him a cup of mead to drink that distracted him so that others could kill him. One account says that she killed him herself. Her motive would have been to clear the throne for her own son, Æthelred, who was a younger son of King Edgar.

In 980, according to the A-SC, “Alderman Ælfhere fetched the body of the holy King Edward at Wareham, and carried him with great solemnity to Shaftsbury.” Edward's body was found to have the saintly quality of being uncorrupted, and his reputed holiness drew many pilgrims to his grave. He began to be thought of as a saint.

In 1001, his remains were moved to a more prominent place in Shaftesbury. Although he was never canonized, royal decree in 1008 confirmed his recognition all over England as worthy of veneration.

Then it gets interesting.

During the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII (mentioned many times, such as here), Edward's relics were hidden elsewhere in the church in order to save them from destruction.

Their whereabouts were unknown after that for 400 years.

In 1931, an archaeological dig found some bones in a casket under the church. An osteologist in 1970 determined that they were the bones of a young male who had died a violent death; everyone agreed that they had found Edward the Martyr. The director of the ongoing excavation (and owner of the land) announced that he was seeking a final resting place for the bones of this English saint. There were conditions:
  1. that they were recognised as the relics of a saint,
  2. that a shrine would be established for their reception, and
  3. that his feast days would be observed. [link]
The (half-hearted) search was on. Then an odd player joined the negotiations.

In 1979, a schism hit the Church of the Genuine Orthodox Christians of Greece. Unhappy with the current administration by Archbishop Auxentius, the breakaway group called itself the "Orthodox Church of Greece - Holy Synod in Resistance. " They contacted the possessor of the bones and said "We'll do it!" They founded, in 1982, a monastic group called St. Edward the Martyr Orthodox Brotherhood, housed in a monastery inside Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, south of London.

In December 1988, over 1000 years after his death, Edward the Martyr's remains were formally brought to their final (?) resting place in the Church of St. Edward the Martyr, Brookwood.

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