Thursday, 19 April 2007

St Alphege

Born about 953, St Alphege was successively a monk of Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, a hermit in Somerset, Abbot of Bath and, in 984, bishop of Winchester in succession to St. Ethelwold. He was used as an emissary to placate the Danish invaders who came to London and Wessex in 994, converted their leader to Christianity, and persuaded them to withdraw. In 1005 he became Archbishop of Canterbury. Another Danish force now overran southern England (1011) and the king, the famously named Ethelred the Unready, was unable to cope with them, despite the payment of the tribute tax known as the Danegeld. They besieged Canterbury and took Alphege hostage, demanding an enormous ransom which the Archbishop refused to allow the people to pay. Finally, on this day in 1012, after a drunken feast, the Danes had Alphege axed to death at Greenwich.

Under King Canute, he was enshrined at Canterbury in 1023. Later, the Norman archbishop Lanfranc suspended the celebration, questioning whether Alphege was actually a martyr for the faith. The answer, supplied by St. Anselm, was that, like St. John the Baptist, Alphege was a martyr for justice and truth; the feast was then duly restored. By an act of prescience, St. Thomas Becket, in his last sermon at Canterbury before his murder, praised Alphege as the first Canterbury martyr.

I am grateful to the the website of The Sacret Heart Parish, Waterlooville for the above text and to Orthodox England for the icon of St Alphege.

1 comment:

Fr. Dwight Longenecker said...

'A hermit in Somerset...' Now that is what I really feel called to...