St Edward the Martyr

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St Edward the Martyr (c959-978/9)

Icon of St Edward the Martyr"Men murdered him but God has magnified him"
(The Anglo Saxon Chronicle)

St Edward was the son of Edgar, by his first wife Ethelfleda (died c963/4). King Edgar (c944-975) reigned from 959 to 975 and on his death Edward became king. Edward was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, St Dunstan, as he was only in his mid-teens. The succession was disputed because King Edgar's second wife, Aelfthryth (c945-1000), wished her son Ethelred to be king. (Ethelred is known to history as Ethelred the Unready or "the Redeless".) Two or three years later, on 18 March 978 or 979, Edward was murdered near the site of Corfe Castle, Dorset, almost certainly the victim of his stepmother's intrigues.

Edward's initial burial was hurried. Soon miraculous cures were attributed to Edward by visitors to the site of his grave. In 980 his body was moved to Shaftesbury Abbey, the relics were enshrined in 1001, and he was officially canonised in 1008. St Edward's shrine survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when it was stripped of its wealth. However, St Edward's remains had previously been removed and hidden in the Church.

In 1931 a crude casket was unearthed during an archaeological investigation of the site. The remains were studied and pronounced consistent with the injuries received by St Edward. The Director of the Excavations, John Wilson-Claridge (1905-1993), whose family then owned the site, began years of painstaking negotiations with all the major churches in order to fins a suitable resting place for the relics. He imposed three 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. These conditions were met only by the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile, which entered into detailed negotiations with Mr Wilson-Claridge in the late 1970s.

At about the same time the Orthodox Church purchased the site now owned by the St Edward Brotherhood, with the intention of using the larger of the two mortuary chapels for the reception of St Edward's bones. The formal ceremony of enshrinement took place on 15/16 September 1984. Thus for the first time in nearly 450 years the remains of St Edward (arguably England's least important king) have a fitting resting place within a Church whose doctrine is closest to that which he knew in his lifetime.

2001 marked the one thousandth anniversary of the glorification of St Edward. In 1001, it was decided to enshrine his relics at Shaftesbury Abbey in a costly and elaborate shrine. This decision was based on the continued slight levitation of the cover of his grave in the Abbey, and from the dreams of a devout man to whom St Edward is said to have appeared and indicated that he no longer wished to lie in this grave. The man told the Abbess of his dreams, she referred the matter to King Ethelred (St Edward's step-brother), and the King ordered the relics to be enshrined in a suitable place in the Abbey Church. A Royal Charter dated 1001 states that "I, King Ethelred, King of the English, with humble prayer, offer the monastry ... my brother Edward, whom the Lord himself deigns to exault in our days by many signs of virtue, after his blood was shed."

A special service was held in the St Edward the Martyr Church on 31 March 2001 to celebrate this event. The Hierarchical Liturgy was led by Archbishop Mark who has pastoral oversight of the parishes of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in the British Isles. 

An article by Father Alexis describing the life of St Edward the Martyr and the foundation of the St Edward Brotherhood appeared in the Society's bi-annual magazine Necropolis News vol 2 no 1 (1996).

An article on St Edward the Martyr appeared in the March 2003 issue of the BBC History Magazine.

For further information about St Edward and the St Edward Brotherhood contact the St Edward Brotherhood, St Cyprian's Avenue, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey  GU24 0BL. Tel or Fax (01483) 487763.

Other sites of interest:

Anglo Saxon Chronicle 901AD-999AD
Anglo-Saxons on the Net (St Edward the Martyr)
Early British Kingdoms (St Edward the Martyr)
From St Edward's
Kings and Queens of Britain (St Edward the Martyr)
Lives of the Saints: St Edward the Martyr
St Edward the Martyr Church, Corfe Castle, Dorset

The Saga of the Relics of a Martyred Boy-King

Photograph The St Edward Brotherhood

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This site was last updated 24-02-06 The Brookwood Cemetery Society