Born about 962, Edward was the son of King Edgar and his first wife Æthelflaed. Edward’s succession to the throne had been disputed, but he was chosen by the witan in 975 under the influence of Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury. The writer Theodoric Paulus writes of Edward, that he was “a young man of great devotion and excellent conduct. He was wholly catholic, good and of holy life; moreoever, in all things he loved god and the Church. He was generous to the poor, a haven to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of every virtuous grace.” He was a supporter of monasticism in England, as Edgar had been before him. Edward’s violent death at the hand of an assassin at Corfe in Dorset was connected with a struggle for power among the magnates, the anti-monastic party in Mercia wanting as king his half-brother Æthelred, who was younger even than Edward. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Edward’s death:
“King Edward was slain at eventide at Corfe gate and was buried at Wareham without any kingly honors.”
But miracles were soon attributed to him, and his body was translated to Shaftesbury with great ceremony by Dunstan in 980. In a charter of Æthelred of 1001 he was called saint and martyr, and in 1008 the laws of Æthelred ordered the observance of his feast all over England. Evidence from calendars and litanies reveals widespread veneration of Edward from the early eleventh century, and he was the patron saint of England until displaced by Saint George later in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, devotion to him continued – extant sources report that King Henry the Fifth rode to the Battle of Agincourt with banners of Saint George and of Saint Edward. Five ancient churches in England are dedicated to him.
Edward is commemorated as a saint not only by Anglicans, but by the Orthodox, who venerate him as a Passion-bearer; viz., one who accepts death out of love for Christ. In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Edward is commemorated on March 18, the date of his martyrdom, and on June 20, the date of the translation of his relics by Dunstan.
prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and other sources
Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
The icon of Saint Edward the Martyr was written by and is © Aidan Hart, and is reproduced here with his generous permission.