Golden Legend – Saint Alphage

[Saint Alphege of Winchester]Article

The Life of Saint Alphage Bishop and martyr.

Saint Alphage the holy bishop and martyr was born in England in the shire of Gloucester, and he came of a noble kin, and was his father’s heir, but he forsook all for God’s love, and became a monk at Deerhurst, five miles from Gloucester; but afterward good King Edward gave that house of Deerhurst to the house of Saint Denis in France. And when Saint Alphage had been monk there long time, living a full holy life, then he went from thence to the Abbey of Bath, to be there in more contemplation and rest of soul. And he builded there that fair abbey and established therein black monks and endowed it, and was himself therein the first abbot and founder. And he led there a full holy life, and much well he guided the monks in holy and virtuous living. And that time was Saint Dunstan, bishop of Canterbury, and Saint Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester. But within short time after Saint Ethelwold died, and then Saint Andrew appeared to Saint Dunstan in a night and bade him arise anon and make Alphage, abbot of Bath, bishop of Winchester, and so it was done with great solemnity, like as our Lord by his holy apostle Saint Andrew had commanded, and he was bishop there twenty-two years in full holy living. And after that he was made archbishop of Canterbury, after Saint Dunstan, and thereto he was chosen by the pope, and by all the clergy of England, in the year of our Lord one thousand and six years, and six years he was bishop of Canterbury. And in the seventh year came a wicked tyrant out of Denmark into this land of England, whose name was Erdrithe, with a great multitude of Danes. And they burnt and robbed in every place where they came, and slew many lords of the land, and many of the common people. And that time was Ethelred king of England, and Saint Edward the martyr was his brother, and Saint Edward the confessor his son, the which lieth at Westminster.

And in this time the Danes did do much harm in this land. The chief prince of them hight Thurkill and his brother Erdrithe was leader of the host. They did full great persecution, for there was none that might resist ne withstand them, for King Ethelred was a meek man and took none heed to help his people. And Erdrithe, with the Danes went to Canterbury, and there he did much wickedness to the people, and burnt and destroyed all that he might find, but at the last he was slain by men of Canterbury. And when the Prince Thurkill wist that he was slain, he was much angry, and in great haste he came to Canterbury and besieged the town and anon he gat it, and burnt and destroyed all that he might. And this holy bishop Saint Alphage came to the prince of the Danes, and prayed him to take his body and spare the poor people of the town, but for all that he slew monks, priests and all that he might find. And he tithed the monks, he slew nine monks and saved the tenth, and yet he thought there were over many alive, and began to tithe them again, and then Saint Alphage reproved them for their cursed doings. And then anon they took Saint Alphage, the holy man, and bound his hands behind him, and they led him with them from thence unto the town of Greenwich beside London, and there they put him in prison half a year and more.

And the Friday in the Easter week the devil appeared to this holy man in the prison, in likeness of an angel, and said unto him that it was our Lord’s will that he should go out of prison and follow him. And this holy man believed him and went out, and followed the wicked angel by night, and he brought this holy man into a dark valley, and there he waded over waters and ditches, mires and hedges, and ever this holy man followed him as he might for weariness, till at the last he had brought him into a foul mire that was set about with great waters, and there the devil left him, and vanished away. And then this holy man wist well that he was deceived by his enemy the fiend, and then he cried God mercy and prayed him of help. And then our Lord sent to him his holy angel, and aided him out of the mire and water, and said it was the will of God that he should return again to prison that he came from, for tomorrow shalt thou suffer martyrdom for our Lord’s sake. And as he went again towards the prison at Greenwich, early by the morrow, his keepers that had sought him all the night met him, and anon they cast him down to the ground and there they wounded him full piteously. And then they brought him again to prison, and they made therein a great smouldering of smoke for to disease him. And then Saint Dunstan appeared to him and bade him be of good comfort, for our Lord hath ordained for thee a glorious crown. And as they spake together his bonds brake, and all his wounds were made whole again through the mercy of our Lord Jesu Christ, and when his keepers saw this they dreaded full sore. And anon this miracle was known to the people and they went then fast to see him. And the judges doubted the great people that came thither, and they took him out of prison and led him to that place where he should be martyred, but the poor people made great lamentation for him. But anon the wicked tormentors stoned him to death like as the Jews did Saint Stephen. And when he was almost dead, one there was that was his godson, which with an axe smote him on the head that he fell to the ground, and then rendered up his spirit to our Lord Jesu Christ. And then these wicked tyrants threw the holy body into a deep water that good men should not find it, but by the providence of our Lord, within short time after he was found of the true christian men, and they reproved greatly these wicked tyrants. And they began then to scorn the holy body and one of them took an old rotten stake or tree, and pight it in the earth and said: If this stake bear flowers by to-morrow we will repent us and believe that he is an holy man, or else we will never believe it. And on the morrow they found the stake green and bare leaves. And when they saw this great miracle they believed in God, and kissed the feet of this holy Saint, and repented them full sore of their wicked deeds, and cried full meekly God mercy, and this holy Saint Alphage. And after, he was brought to London with great worship and buried in the church of Saint Paul with great reverence, and there his body lay buried many years; and afterwards it was taken up and translated to Canterbury, and his bones there laid in a worshipful feretory or shrine, where our Lord showed daily many fair miracles for his holy martyr Saint Alphage. And the tormentors that repented them not, died anon affer in great misery in divers wises, for to be punished as it pleased our Lord. Then let us pray to this Blessed martyr and archbishop, Saint Alphage, that he be moyen unto our Lord Jesu Christ that we may come to his everlasting bliss in heaven. Amen.