Friday, November 20, 2020

The year was 1175. We remember St. Edmund of Abingdon. The reading is the epic and gorgeous “Dream of the Rood.”

It is the 20th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1175.

Today we head back to the English church in the 12th and 13 centuries as we remember one of her less celebrated but certainly important ecclesiastical figures. As every Brit will tell you, 1066 is the year when everything changed. The settlement that resulted from the Battle of Hastings and the larger Norman Invasion would bring change and eventual stability. But the stability wasn't quite there yet.

After the crown's competition, which led to the 1066 event, even more, competition would arise between rival internal claimants to the throne. And there would be few monarchs with the gravitas and status of William the Conqueror.

The crown initially passed from Norman hands to the Plantagenet's under the steady hands of Henry II. We've met him before. He was the cat who had Thomas Becket killed in the Canterbury Cathedral. We didn't say he was nice, but his strength proved effective. Henry's 3rd son Richard would take the throne next and despite the best efforts of writers to lionize the one they call "lionhearted." He was an often absentee king fighting crusades and warring on the Continent. He nearly bankrupted the crown with his excursions, once kidnapped and ransomed back at an enormous cost.

The next king, the 4th child of Henry II, was the infamous King John. As we must always remind you here on the Almanac, John Lackland was the thumb sucking cartoon lion in Disney's 1973 version of Robin Hood. So, the Baron's revolt against John, the kingdom is on the verge of civil war, and the king was pressed to accept the Magna Carta in 1215. This put the king himself under the law and afforded equality under the law for many of the well-to-do.

It wasn't perfect and needed to be amended many times, but John wouldn't see this. He died the following year, and his 9-year-old son, and heir, Henry III, would inherit his father's troubles. And as Henry II had Thomas Becket to contend with, Henry III had just as formidable a foe. It was St. Edmund of Abingdon who was born on this, the 20th of November in 1175.

Abingdon would clash with Henry as the Archbishop of Canterbury, but this was after a long career as both a teacher and a preacher. Edmund was born in Abingdon in Berkshire. He attended Oxford and taught at Paris before returning to Oxford. In Paris, he became acquainted with Aristotle's newly discovered writings and gained fame as one of the first to expound on Aristotle in England while back at Oxford. His preaching and piety made him a much sought-after man, and his support of the 6th crusade garnered him support from the Pope. And it was Pope Gregory IX who then appointed Edmund the Archbishop of Canterbury. Edmund was in a peculiar position, like Becket, as he had to maneuver between the local church, the Pope, and King of England. Edmund took the church's side and argued that Henry should give up his French holdings on the Continent. Furthermore, Edmund argued that Henry needed to honor the autonomy of the church.

The Baron's supported Edmund against Henry. So, Henry had a Cardinal rile up those monks under Edmund at Canterbury. With these strange bedfellows, the accusations and excommunications flew. While the threat of excommunication used to work, Henry refused to believe Edmund could do such a thing. Heading to Rome to adjudicate the issue, Edmund of Abingdon died in France on the way. He was eventually canonized on account of his time at Oxford and as a preacher, although Henry was loathed to let his one-time foe be sainted until 1247, about seven years after Edmund's death. Born on this day in 1175, St. Edmund of Abingdon was 64 years old.

The reading for today comes from another Anglo-Saxon poet, like Caedmon. This is an excerpt of the first few lines from the epic and gorgeous "Dream of the Rood." "Rood" is the medieval term for the cross. You can find a link to the entire poem on the transcript for this episode at

Lo! I will tell the dearest of dreams
That I dreamed in the midnight when mortal men
were slunk in slumber. Me-seemed I saw
A wondrous Tree towering in air,
Most shining of crosses compassed with light.
Brightly that beacon was gilded with gold;

Jewels adorned it fair at the foot,
Five on the should-beam, blazing in splendor.
Through all creation the angels of God
Beheld it shining - no cross of shame!
Holy spirits gazed on its gleaming,
Men upon earth and all this creation.
Wondrous that Tree, that Token of triumph,
And I a transgressor soiled with my sins!
I gazed on the Rood arrayed in glory,
Shining in beauty and gilded with gold,
The Cross of the Saviour beset with gems.

(Full text)

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 20th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher "Oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally, golly what a Day" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.

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