Translation:St. Edmund, King and Martyr

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St. Edmund, King and Martyr
by Ælfric, translated from Old English by Wikisource

An original Wikisource translation from the Anglo-Saxon

32655St. Edmund, King and MartyrÆlfric



During Æthelred's reign [978–1013], a very educated monk named Abbo came from over the southern sea [i.e. the English Channel], from the monastery of St. Benoit-sur-Loire, to the archbishop Dunstan [Archbishop of Canterbury (961–988)], three years before Dunstan died. The two were in conversation, when Dunstan related the tale of St. Edmund, just as Edmund's sword-bearer had explained it to King Æthelstan, when Dunstan was young and the sword-bearer was very old. Abbo set the whole story down in his book, and afterwards, when the book came to us a few years ago, we translated it into English, as it here stands. Two years after visiting Dunstan, Abbo returned to his monastery, and soon was installed as the Abbot in that same monastery.



Edmund the blessed, King of the East Angles, was wise and venerable and always respected, with noble practice, Almighty God. He was humble and meek and thus resolutely persisted in that he would not give way to shameful sins, nor from his goodness would he deviate, but was always mindful of the true teaching: "Are you made head-man? Raise yourself not so, but be amongst people just as one of them." [Ecclesiasticus 32:1] He was as generous to beggars and widows as a father and always benevolently directed his people to righteousness, and punished cruelty, and blessedly he lived in the true faith.

Hinguar and Hubba Invade


It befell then at last that the Danish people set out with their ship fleet, ravaging and striking thorughout the land, just as is their custom. In those ships the foremost leaders were Hinguar and Hubba, united through the Devil, and they landed in Northumbria with spears and slayed the people there. Hinguar then turned east with his ships and Hubba remained in Northumbria, winning victory with bloodthirstiness. Hinguar then came to East Anglia by rowing, when the noble Alfred had one and twenty years [this is Alfred the Great, who became King of the West Saxons when he was 23], he that would later be famous as the King of the West Saxons; and Hinguar just like a wolf invaded the land, and slew the people, the men and women and the innocent children, and shamefully harrassed virtuous Christians.

He sent then to the King an arrogant message, that he should submit to Hinguar's service if he valued his life. The messanger came to King Edmund and boldy said, "Hinguar, our king, brave and victorious on sea and on land, has many peoples conquered and comes now soon with an army to land here that he might set up winter quarters with his men. Now he demands that you give your secret gold-hoards and your ancestral treasure to him, and be his Under-King, if you want to be alive, because you do not have the might with which to withstand him."

So then Edmund called over a bishop that was close to him, and asked him how he should respond to Hinguar. Then was afraid the bishop for what might soon happen, and for the king's life, and said that it seemed good advice that Edmund submit to Hinguar. Then the king was silent, and looked at the earth, and then said to the bishop at last, "Alas, dear bishop, the miserable people of this land have been miserably treated, and I would now love to fall in battle, provided that my folk might the land keep." And the bishop responded, "Alas, my loved king, your folk lie slain and you have not the power that you may fight, and these vile pirates come and kidnap those that are alive. Save yourself by fleeing, or by so submitting to Hinguar." Then Edmund, full of bravery as he was, said, "This I want and wish with all my heart, that I do not live after my beloved thanes in their beds, with their wives and children, have all been slain by these murderous Vikings. Nor was it ever that I might flee, but I would rather die if my country needs such. Almighty God knows that I will not turn from his worship, nor from his true love, whether I live or die."

Edmund's Capture and Martyrdom


After these words, he turned to the messenger that Hinguar sent to him and said forthwith, "Truly, you should be killed now, but I will not defile with your foul blood my clean hands, because I follow Christ, who set us an example; and I blissfully will be slain by you, if God so wants it. Now go quickly, and tell your lord, "Never will Edmund to Hinguar submit in this life, that heathen warlord, unless he to Holy Christ first with faith on this land submits."

Then turned the messenger quickly, and met with the bloodthirsty Hinguar and all his army, hastening to Edmund, and he told Hinguar what Edmund's answer was. Hinguar then bid with malice that his horde should seize that king alone, that his command forsook, and immediately bind him.

So then Edmund King, who Hinguar came to, stood in his hall, holy-minded, and threw down his weapons: he would follow Christ's example, who forbid Peter with weapon to fight with the bloodthirsty Jews. So than the impious one bound Edmund and gravely insulted him, and beat him with switches, and then led that faithful king to a strong tree and tied him thereto with hard binds, and then whipped him cruelly; and he always called out to Christ with true faith between the strokes; and his faith enraged the heathen, because he called out to Christ to aid him.

They thrust spears at him, like he was a game, until he was all covered with spears, like a hedgehog's bristles, just as St. Sebastian was. Then that dishonorable Viking Hinguar saw that the noble king would not renounce Christ, but with resolute faith he still called out to Him: Hignuar ordered that he be beheaded, and the heathens so did. While he cried out to Christ still, the pirates drew the saint out for slaughter and with one stroke took his head off. His blessed soul traveled then to Christ. There was a man nearby, kept hidden by God from the heathens, that heard all this and afterwards told it just as we tell it here.

The Search for the Head


Then the Vikings went back to their ships and hid the head of the Saint Edmund in a thick bramble, that it would not be buried. After some time, when they were departed, the country-folk, those that remained, came to where their lord's body lay dead without a head, and they were very sorrowful in heart for his slaughter, and especially that they didn't have the head to the body. Then the observer to the beheading said what he saw before, that the Vikings had the head with them, and it seemed to him, as was completely true, that they had hidden it in the forest somewhere.

They then walked all together to the woods, searching everywhere, through bushes and brambles, anywhere if they might find that head. In addition, there was a great miracle in that a wolf was sent through God's guidance to protect the head from other beasts through day and night. The people walked, searching and always calling out, just as is customary for those that often go in the woods, "Where are you, friend?" The head would answer them, "Here! Here! Here!" It answered them as often as they called, until they all came to him. Then lay down the grey wolf which had guarded that head and with his two feet had grasped that head, greedy and hungry, and for God did not dare taste the head but stood over it against the other beasts.

The Establishment of Edmund's Church


The Wolf's guardianship astonished them, and they carried that holy head back with them, thanking the Almighty for all his wonders; and the wolf followed forth with the head, until they came to town, as if he were tame, and then returned back to the woods. The people then lay the head on the holy body and buried him as best they could in such haste, and immediately established a church above him.

After that in time, many years later, when the ravaging stopped and peace was given to those suffering people, then they joined together and splendidly made a church for the saint, because miracles frequently happened at his grave, at the prayer house where he was buried. Then they carried with public honor the saint's body, and lay him in that church. It was a great miracle, then, that he was just as whole as if he were alive, with a clean body, and his neck was whole, that before was cut through, and it was as if there were a red silk thread about his neck, to manifest to people how he was slain. Likewise each of the wounds that the bloodthirsty heathens with many spears had made were healed through the heavenly God; and he lies just as uncorrupted until the present day [circa 1000], waiting ressurection and that eternal glory. His body, which lay uncorrupted, revealed to us that he without fornication lived on this world and with clean life travelled to Christ.

A certain widow, named Oswyn, lived at the saint's grave in prayer and fasting for many years after; she would cut the hair of the saint each year and neatly trim his nails with love and keep the trimmings as relics in a chest on an altar.

Miracles of the Saint


Then the people faithfully worshipped the saint, and Bishop Theodred greatly endowed with gifts of gold and silver a monastery to venerate the saint. Then came at a certain time eight wretched thieves on night to the honorable saint; they wished to steal the treasures that people brought there, and skillfully tried to discover how they might get in. Some struck with mighty blows the hasp, some filed around with their files, some dug under the door with a spade, some with ladder wished to unlock the window, but they labored in vain, and wretchedly fared so, in that the holy saint miraculously bound them, each as they stood struggling with their tools, that none of them that crime might perpetrate, nor did they thence move, but stood so until morning.

People then wondered at that how the criminals hung, some on the ladder, some bent at digging, and each fast bound to his work. They were brought to the bishop and he ordered them hung on the high gallows, but he was not mindful how the mild-hearted God called by means of his prophet, the words which here stand: "Those whom one leads to death, release them out always" [Proverbs 24:11]; and in addition the holy canons forbid clergy, both bishops and priests, to be around thieves, because it is not befitting of them called to serve God that they should assent to the death of any man, if they are Christ's thanes. After, when the Bishop Theodred read his books again, he repented with sadness that he such a cruel judgment set on those wretched thieves, and regretted it always until his life's end, and then the people prayed eagerly for him with three full days of fasting, asking the Almighty that He should spare him.

In the land, there was a certain man, called Leofstan, rich of the world and ignorant of God, who rode to the saint with excessive arrogance, and very insolently ordered the saint to be shown to him, so that Leofstan could see whether he was uncorrupted; as soon as he saw the saint's body, then he immediately went mad and roared horribly and miserably ended from evil death. This is similar to what the faithful Pope Gregory said in his decree concerning the Saint Lawrence, who lies in Romes -- that men wished always to see how he lay, both good and evil, but God stopped them, so that there perished on their seeing [Lawrence] a band of seven men together. The others desisted from viewing the martyr with human error.



Many wonders we have heard publicly spoken about the holy Edmund, that we will not set down here, as everyone knows them. In this saint is manifest, and in other such saints, that Almighty God, He who keeps Edmund's body whole, may raise people again on Judgement Day, uncorrupted by the earth, although they come from the earth. Worthy is that place for that honorable saint, that the people may worship and may staff it well with God's pure servants, because the saint is more glorious than men may understand.

Nor is England deprived of the Lord's saints, when in the land of the Angles lie such saints like this holy king, and Cuthbert the Blessed, and Æthelthrith in Ely, and also her sister, whole in body, to strengthen faith. There are also many other saints in England that work many wonders (just as is well-known) to praise the Almighty, in whom they believed. Christ shows to men, through his glorious saints, that he is Almighty God that makes such wonders, even though the miserable Jews entirely reject him, for which they are accursed, just as they wished for themselves. Nor will there be any wonders worked at their graves, because they do not believe in the living Christ, but Christ reveals to men where the true faith is, when he such wonders works through his saints far and wide throughout this earth. Therefore, to him be the glory forever, with his heavenly Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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