It is the 16th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
We begin today’s show with a word from the Associated Press reporting out of Mystic, Connecticut.
“MYSTIC, Conn. - There are too few opportunities in life to see the severed limb of a medieval holy man, and so when one presents itself in as unlikely a place as southeast Connecticut, it should be grasped with haste.
Thank goodness, then, for St. Edmund's Retreat on a tiny island near Mystic, a tranquil and serene spot run by a Catholic order and home to one of the most distinctive items in Connecticut's vast jumble of oddities: the arm of the 13th-century archbishop of Canterbury who gives his name to the property.”
Who was this man, and why was his arm displayed in Mystic, Connecticut?
He was born Edmund Rich, likely in 1174 and possibly on St. Edmund’s Day (November 20th). His father was wealthy and decided to retire early and enter a monastery, leaving his wife to raise three kids. She raised them in the faith and guided them towards asceticism (that’s a ‘monkish’ life). He likely attended the Monastery school at Abingdon (his hometown) before heading off to study at the universities of Oxford and Paris- both then in their infancy.
He would consider a monastic life but wanted to teach. He wanted to teach but knew that church work was what his mother would prefer. He took a degree in theology and continued to teach. It is of note that he was one of the earliest professors at these two colleges to introduce Aristotle (the philosopher whose works had been hidden for centuries and whose philosophy would kick off the scholastic school and rumblings that led to the Renaissance and Reformation).
By 1219, he was ready to go into church work full time- he was made a vicar and given the title of Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. Through his preaching, he became a well-known advocate of both the Magna Carta and the 6th Crusade. On account of his love of the Magna Carta, he would be held in suspicion by King Henry III. By preaching the 6th Crusade (not a total disaster; there was peace made from this one), he became a favorite of the Pope. In 1233, he was made Archbishop of Canterbury- a less-than-desirable position for one at odds with the King. The barons had been at war with the crown- most notably Henry III’s father- that’s right- King John of England of Robin Hood fame- in real life, a talking snake who sucked his thumb.
I digress- Henry went against his father's example of having foreign counselors, something the Barons and Edmund opposed. When Henry bowed to the demands of the Archbishop, his popularity spread amongst the Barons. Unwilling to concede anymore to this “troublesome Archbishop,” the King asked the Pope for a special legate- someone who could speak on behalf of Rome and confirm rulings. The Legate, a Frenchman named Otho, was a rubber stamp for the king, and this would leave Edmund to petition to Rome; on a trip to the Holy See, Edmund died on the 16th of November in 1240.
Besides teaching Aristotle, some court intrigue, and popular preaching, what made him so popular that he was made a saint within six years? Would Henry III have to do this on account of public acclaim? It was his perceived distance from the King. He was praised as a kind of independent spiritual arbiter. He had a stellar reputation as both a scholar and pious leader.
His body was not returned to Canterbury but instead became a popular shrine, where he died in France. Amidst the upheaval of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s mess, many of France’s cathedrals and shrines were destroyed. It was a French priest who asked to rehabilitate the church in which Edmund’s remains lay- he was given the building and the group named itself the Society, or Brothers of St. Edmund. In the early 20th century, amidst religious conflict in France, the movement came to North America, first to Quebec and then Connecticut- where the arm of St. Edmund currently rests. It is worth noting that the brothers have attributed to themselves a motto which is reportedly from Edmund: “Do the best we can, with what little we have, to serve those most in need”- here here, to the St. and the Brothers on this the day of remembrance for St. Edmund of Abingdon.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary- it’s apocalyptic season, and we will look to the daily Psalm- 123.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 16th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Edmunds include Abingdon, Colonial Administrator Andros, Atkinson’s Blackadder, and Turkish delight fiend Pevensie. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who remembers the good ship and crew was in peril/And later that night when his lights went outta sight/Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald- I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.