Edmund of Abingdon

Archbishop of Canterbury

Image of Edmund from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)
Appointed 1233
Term ended 1240
Predecessor John Blund
Successor Boniface of Savoy
Consecration 2 April 1234
Personal details
Born 20 November c. 1175
St Edmund's Lane, Abingdon, Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), England
Died 16 November 1240(1240-11-16)
Soisy-Bouy, Seine-et-Marne, France
Buried Pontigny Abbey, Burgundy, France
Feast day 16 November
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Anglican Communion
Title as Saint Archbishop
Canonized 16 December 1246
by Pope Innocent IV
Attributes archbishop making a vow before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; embracing the Child Jesus; placing a ring on the finger of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; receiving a lamb from the Blessed Virgin Mary; with Saint Richard of Chichester; with Saint Thomas of Canterbury
Patronage Abingdon, Oxfordshire; Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth; St Edmund's College, Cambridge; St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Shrines Pontigny Abbey, Pontigny, Yonne, France

Edmund of Abingdon (circa 1174–1240) (also known as Edmund Rich or St Edmund of Canterbury) was a 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury in England. Today he is remembered for his connection to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, St Edmund's College, Cambridge, St Edmund's School, Canterbury and St Edmund's College, Ware.


Early life and career

Edmund was born circa 1174, possibly on 20 November (the feast of Edmund the Martyr), in Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire), 7 miles south of Oxford, England.[1] He was the oldest of four children.

"Rich" was an epithet sometimes given to his wealthy merchant father. It was never applied to Edmund or his siblings in their lifetimes. Edmund may have been educated at the monastic school in Abingdon. His early studies were in England, but he completed his higher learning in France at the University of Paris. About 1195, in company with his brother Richard, he was sent to the schools of Paris. He studied at the universities of Oxford and Paris and became a teacher about 1200, or a little earlier. For six years he lectured on mathematics and dialectics, apparently dividing his time between Oxford and Paris, and helped introduce the study of Aristotle.

Edmund became one of Oxford's first lecturers with a Master of Arts, but was not Oxford's first Doctor of Divinity.[2] and must have been something of a character in the eyes of the students. Long hours at night spent in prayer had the result that he often 'nodded off' during his lectures. There is a long-established tradition that he utilised his lecture-fees to build the Lady Chapel of St Peter's in the East at Oxford.[3] The site where he lived and taught was formed into a mediaeval academic hall in his name and eventually incorporated as the current college St Edmund Hall. His mother influenced him towards self-denial and austerity; and this led to his taking up the study of theology.

Though for some time Edmund resisted the change, he finally entered upon his new career between 1205 and 1210. He received ordination, took a doctorate in divinity and soon became known as a lecturer on theology and as an extemporaneous preacher. Some time between 1219 and 1222 he was appointed vicar of the parish of Calne in Wiltshire and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral.[4] He held this position for eleven years, during which time he also engaged in preaching. In 1227 he preached the sixth crusade through a large part of England.[1]

Archbishop of Canterbury

Saint Edmund's arms, now used by St Edmund Hall, Oxford

In 1233 came the news of Edmund's appointment, by Pope Gregory IX, to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. The chapter had already made three selections which the pope had declined to confirm. Edmund's name had been proposed as a compromise by Gregory, perhaps on account of his work for the crusade. He was consecrated on 2 April 1234.[5]

Before his consecration Edmund became known for supporting ecclesiastical independence from Rome, maintenance of the Magna Carta and the exclusion of foreigners from civil and ecclesiastical office. Reluctant to accept appointment as archbishop, Edmund was persuaded when it was pointed out that if he refused, the Pope might very well appoint a foreign ecclesiastic.[3] He chose as his chancellor Richard of Wich, known to later ages as St Richard of Chichester.

In the name of his fellow bishops Edmund admonished Henry III of England at Westminster, on 2 February 1234, to heed the example of his father, John of England. A week after his consecration he again appeared before the king with the barons and bishops, this time threatening Henry with excommunication if he refused to dismiss his councillors, particularly Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. Henry yielded, and the favourites were dismissed, Hubert de Burgh (whom they had imprisoned) was released and reconciled to the king and soon the archbishop was sent to Wales to negotiate peace with Llywelyn the Great. Edmund's success, however, turned the king against him.[3]

Edmund was valued by the local people for his teaching, preaching, study, and his prayer; but his uncompromising stand in favour of good discipline in both civil and ecclesial government, of strict observance in monastic life, and of justice in high quarters brought him into conflict with Henry III, with several monasteries, and with the priests of Canterbury cathedral.[6] 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.[7]

Bronze statue of Edmund at St Edmund Hall

Journey to Rome

Notwithstanding the gentleness of his disposition, Edmund firmly defended the rights of Church and State against the exactions and usurpations of Henry III. In December 1237 Edmund set out for Rome to plead his cause in person.[1] From this futile mission he returned to England in August 1238 where his efforts to foster reform were frustrated. Edmund submitted to the papal demands and, early in 1240 paid to the pope's agents one fifth of his revenue, which had been levied for the pope's war against Emperor Frederick II. Other English prelates followed his example.

The papacy then ordered that 300 English benefices should be assigned to Romans. In 1240 Edmund set out for Rome. At the Cistercian Pontigny Abbey in France he became sick, began travelling back to England, but died only 50 miles further north, on 16 November 1240,[5] at the house of Augustinian Canons at Soisy-Bouy and was taken back to Pontigny.


In less than a year after Edmund's death miracles were alleged to be wrought at his grave. He was canonised only 6 years after his death, in December 1246. His feast day is 16 November.[8] A few years later the first chapel dedicated to him, St Edmund's Chapel, was consecrated in Dover by his friend Richard of Chichester (making it the only chapel dedicated to one English saint by another).

At Salisbury a collegiate church and an altar in the cathedral were named after Edmund.[7] St Edmund's Catholic School in Portsmouth is named after him.


Edmund's body was never translated to Canterbury, because the Benedictine community there resented what they regarded as Edmund's attacks on their independence.[7] After his death he was taken back to Pontigny Abbey, where his main relics are now found in a baroque reliquary tomb dating to the 17th century.[9]

An arm is enshrined in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption at St. Edmund's Retreat on Enders Island off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut. The retreat is operated by the Society of the Fathers and Brothers of St. Edmund.[10]

In 1853, the fibula of the Edmund's left leg was presented to St Edmund's College, Ware,[11] by Cardinal Wiseman. Many local cures of serious illnesses were attributed to the intercession of St Edmund; one of the earliest of these was of a student who nearly died after a fall in 1871. His complete healing led to the accomplishment of a vow to extend the beautiful Pugin chapel with a side chapel to honour the saint.[12]

The Islamic silk chasuble, with the main fabric probably made in Al-Andaluz, that Edmund had with him at his death remains in a local church, with a stole and maniple.[13]


Edmund's life was one of self-sacrifice and devotion to others. From boyhood he practised asceticism; such as fasting on Saturdays on bread and water, and wearing a hair shirt. After snatching a few hours' sleep, most of the night he spent in prayer and meditation.[1]


Besides his "Constitutions," issued in 1236 (printed in W. Lynwood's Constitutiones Angliae, Oxford, 1679), Edmund wrote Speculum ecclesiae (London, 1521; Eng. transl., 1527; reprinted in M. de la Bigne's Bibliotheca veterum patrum, v., Paris, 1609).

Congregation of St Edmund

Edmund's life inspired the formation of the Society of St Edmund at Pontigny, France, in 1843 by Rev. Jean Baptiste Muard, who intended to keep Saint Edmund's memory and life alive through faithful service, for the work of popular missions. The members also devote themselves to parochial work, to the education of youth in seminaries and colleges, to the direction of pious associations, and to foreign missions.

Members of the Society, based in Pontigny, fled to the United States in 1889 after widespread anti-clericalism seized France. The Society of St Edmund settled in Winooski Park, Vermont, and established Saint Michael's College in 1904 where the deeds and values of Saint Edmund's life continue through fulfilment of the College's mission. The original motherhouse is at Pontigny, but since the expulsion of the religious orders the superior general resided at Hitchin, England. In the early 20th century, the congregation has two houses in the United States: a missionary house and apostolic school at Swanton, Vermont, for the training of young men who wish to study for the priesthood and the religious life; and a college at Colchester, Vermont, with 12 fathers, 8 scholastics, and 100 pupils.



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Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
John Blund
Archbishop of Canterbury
Succeeded by
Boniface of Savoy
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