A Patron Saint

Before there was St George, there was St Edmund, King, Virgin and Martyr, whose feast falls today. St George was a soldier saint from the region we now call Syria (what little of it remains intact notwithstanding). He was a decent chap and a worthy saint, but he did not become England’s patron saint until the fourteenth century. He was brought back by crusaders and had been favoured under the Norman occupation because he was neither Anglo-Saxon—and thus a potential emblem for resistance among the subjugated English—nor a Norman—and thus likely to be rejected out of hand buy the English. Before him St Edward the Confessor (on whose feast my birthday happily falls) had been widely considered the national patron of England, though even he was not original. The first saint we call the patron of England was St Edmund, the patron of my monastery, and the raison d’être of the great abbey and town of Bury St Edmunds.

Edmund De la Fosse.png
The rather florid painting of the martyrdom of St Edmund by Charles de La Fosse (†1716), which was the altarpiece of our church in Paris and now hangs in the Irish College in Paris—the French government resolutely refusing to give it back to us!

For our monastery’s 400th in 2015 I wrote a hymn to St Edmund, set to the tune King’s Lynn, which is the tune for the famous Chesterton hymn, O God of Earth and Altar. My hymn has not survived into our Lauds for today’s titular feast, though I protest it’s not that bad! That said, it is kept as a thanksgiving in our Mass. So I invite readers who are partial to a good hymn-along to sing-along with us by clicking the link below for the accompaniment, and then using the lyrics below to mark with us the feast of the heavenly patron of not only my monastery but (originally) of England. He would make a fitting foil and corrective for many a modern tendency in English society today.

Happy Feast!!

Saint Edmund, King and Martyr,
Gave witness to the Lord
As a devoted monarch
Who perished by the sword.
He ruled his land with justice,
Upholding God’s own law;
Was mindful of the widow,
The orphan and the poor.

When Viking horde beset him
And pressed him to deny
The King of kings, Christ Jesus,
He chose instead to die.
Only a youth, but valiant,
Christ’s man he meant to stay;
Choosing eternal glory,
He strode the martyr’s way.

To Father, Son, and Spirit,
For our great saint give praise;
And may his intercession
Support us all our days.
May we his nation prosper,
Faithful to God’s true law,
And sheltered in Christ’s Body
Both now and evermore.


Join the Conversation

  1. Happy Feast day indeed Father!
    and what a man of many talents might I add—writer, photographer, monk par excellence, historian and now, musical virtuoso —
    I must ask you prayers again Father—my son has a second interview today with a company and we pray this may be the one….

    1. Indeed. And quite the maverick he was too. Alas he hitched his wagon to the Arundel body of St Edmund, recovered from southern Francis by Cardinal Vaughan. Sadly they are almost certainly not our St Edmund.

  2. That’s a great hymn, Father. I predict it has s worthy future, given time

    I’ve only just discovered the old Latin hymns of the Church, since switching to the pre V2 Breviary. Aren’t they great? And with Saints so often their subject

    1. The modern Western aversion to extolling and praising saints, let alone asking for their intercession or preaching about them, strikes me as essentially Lutheran. It is an impoverishment, and the Church in the west is impoverished enough! Pax.


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