St Edmund of Abingdon

Feast day 16 November

Born around 1175, Edmund was the eldest son of the merchant, Reginald Rich, a pious man who later in life became a monk. Edmund followed in his father's footsteps and was noted also as being most devout all his life.

He was educated in grammar at Oxford University and then took an Arts course in Paris. Returning to Oxford in 1195 he taught the new logic in the Arts faculty until 1201 when he went back to Paris to study theology, it was probably during this time in France that he wrote his "Moralities on the Psalms".

After a year in Paris, Edmund again returned to England and spent some time with the Austin Canons at Merton in Surrey. In 1214 he incepted in theology at Oxford. A pioneer of Scholasticism, he gave great importance both to the literal sense and historical context of the Bible, as well as to its spiritual sense, which was the vehicle for his theological thoughts and teaching. Then in 1222 his life took a different turn when he became Treasurer of Salisbury and although he continued lecturing in the cathedral school his real work was the administrative duties of the building of the great church that was to become the new Salisbury Cathedral.

Edmund was also noted as being a most generous almsgiver. Often exhausted, Edmund would sometimes retire to the Cistercian monastery at Stanley, in Wiltshire, where the abbot, Stephen of Lexington, was a former pupil of his.

Although Edmund disliked administration and found politics distasteful, in 1233 after three elections had been quashed, the Pope appointed him archbishop of Canterbury, despite his personal feelings Edmond became a notable and effective reformer.

For his household he chose a most able and outstanding group of men, including Richard, later of Chichester. He claimed and exercised metropolitan rights of visitation, this was often challenged and he had to resort to litigation to maintain his authority, not the least with his own monastic chapter at Canterbury.

His dealings with Cardinal Otto, the papal legate were reported to be somewhat stormy, it seems they were friendlier than is often supposed. Edmund resisted royal interference and mismanagement and grew in power and prestige, during the period 1234-6, mediating between king and barons, he united the Church in England into political action and averted a civil war.

Although Edmund resisted some papal appointments to English benefices it did not stop him seeking the pope's help in his disputes with the king. It was on his way to see the pope that he died at Soissy on 19th November 1240. He was buried at the Cistercian abbey at Pontigny, his favourite order.

His body was never translated to Canterbury, because the Black Benedictine community there resented what they regarded as Edmund's attacks on their independence. Edmund was canonised in 1246, at the first celebration of his feast, Henry III offered a chalice, a white samite vestment and 20 marks for candles at his shrine.

At Salisbury a collegiate church and an alter in the cathedral were named after him, while through the Sarum calendar his cult became well known, particularly in Abingdon, his birthplace and Catesby, in Northants, where his sisters, Margaret and Alice were nuns. He is also remembered at Oxford University where St. Edmund Hall takes its name from him.

John Hayward.

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