Golden Legend – Saint Edmund, Bishop

[Saint Edmund Rich]Article

Here followeth the Life of Saint Edmund, Confessor.

Saint Edmund the confessor and bishop, which resteth at Pounteney in France, was born in England in the town of Abingdon. His mother was Mabel the rich, and she was right holy, both wife and widow. And this said Saint Edmund, her son, was born on Saint Edmund’s day, the king and martyr, and in his birth no cloth was fouled by him. And he was born in the first springing of the day, and lay all that day till night as he had been dead, so that the midwife would have had him buried. But his mother said: Nay; and soon after he revived and was borne to church and christened and named Edmund, because he was born on S Edmund’s day, and as he grew in age so increased he in virtues. He had a brother named Robert, and the mother set them both to school; also she had two daughters, that one was named Mary, and that other Alice, which were both made nuns at Catesby in Northamptonshire by the labour of their brother Edmund. And the mother gave to them gifts to fast the Friday, and drew them to virtuous and holy living by gifts and fair behests, so that when they came to more perfect age it grieved them not. Their mother ware hard hair for our Lady’s love, and led her life in great penance and daily laboured. And on a time as she put out wool for to spin, she delivered so much for the pound that the spinners might not live thereby, which complained thereof to her son Edmund, and he took the yarn that was spun for a pound and raked it in the fire, and a certain time after he took it out of the fire, and the just pound was not hurt ne lessed, but as much as was more than a pound was wasted and burnt by the fire. And when she saw this she repented her greatly and did so never more after. After this she sent her two sons to Paris to school, and delivered to them money for their costs and school hire, and also two shirts of hair, and prayed them for God’s love and hers that they would wear those shirts once or twice in the week, and they should lack nothing needful to them, and they granted gladly to do after their mother’s desire, insomuch that within a while, of custom they ware the hair every day, and lay therein every night. This was a blessed mother that so virtuously brought forth her children, and in short time Saint Edmund increased so greatly in virtue that every man had joy of him, giving laud to God thereof. And on a day as his fellows and he went to play, he left their fellowships and went alone into a meadow, and under a hedge he said his devotions. And suddenly there appeared tofore him a fair child in white clothing which said: Hail! fellow, that goest alone. And Saint Edmund, being abashed, marvelled from whence this child came, to whom the child said: Edmund, knowest thou not me? And he said: Nay, I am thy fellow in the school, and in all where thou goest I am ever on thy right side, and yet thou knowest me not, but look in my forehead and there thou shalt find my name written. And then Edmund looked in his forehead and saw written therein with letters of gold, Jesus Nazarenus rex Judeorum. And then the child said: Dread thee not, Edmund, for I am Jesu Christ thy Lord, and I shall be thy defender here whilst thou livest. And then Edmund fell down, meekly thanking God of his great mercy and goodness. And then our Lord taught him to say when he shall go to his bed, or arise, and bless him with this prayer: Jesus Nazarenus rex Judeorum, Filius Dei miserere mei, in remembrance of my passion, and the devil shall never have power to overcome thee. And then anon this child vanished away. And Saint Edmund thanked humbly our Lord that it pleased to him to show him in this manner, and ever after both evening and morning, he used continually to bless him with that holy prayer to his life’s end, and did much penance ever after for God’s sake. And when he had continued at school a long time at Paris, he came home and went to Oxenford to school. And always in this time he was chaste in his living and a clean virgin, in will and deed, and never consented to the sin of the flesh. And on a day he made his prayers devoutly before an image of our Lady, and he put a ring upon her finger, and promised to her faithfully never to have other wife but only her during his life, and humbly greeted our Lady with these four words: Ave Maria gratia plena, which words were written on the said ring.

And his host had a daughter that laboured greatly to make Saint Edmund to sin with her fleshly, and long time he put her off, and she laboured so sore that at the last he granted her to come to his bed, and then she was right glad, and she espied her time and came to his chamber, and anon made her ready to come to his bed, and she stood naked tofore him. And then he took a sharp rod and beat the maid, that the blood ran down on every side of her body, and said to her: Thus thou shalt learn to release thy soul from the foul lusts of thy flesh. And so with beating he put away all her foul lust, and ever after she lived a clean virgin unto her life’s end. And soon after, the good mother sent for Edmund and her other children, for she knew that she should shortly pass out of this world, and charged Edmund to see that his brother and sisters should be well guided, and after she gave to them her blessing and departed out of this world, and is buried at Abingdon in Saint Nicholas’ Church in a tomb of marble before the rood, where is written: Here lieth Mabel, flower of widows. And after, Saint Edmund did do make a chapel at Catesby, in which both his sisters were buried, and one of them was prioress of the place ere she died, and was a holy woman for whom God showed many miracles. And Saint Edmund dwelled long after at Oxenford, living a holy life and ware a shirt of hair full of hard knots, and a breech of the same, and the knots stuck in the flesh that it made his body to bleed, and he bound the shirt to his body with a cord so strait that unnethe he might bow his body.

And on a time when his shirt of hair was right foul he took it to his servant for to burn in the fire, but the fire might not perish ne hurt it. Then his servant took it out of the fire, and bound a stone thereto and threw it into a pond, and told his master that he had burnt it. Saint Edmund and his fellows, on a day as they came from Lewkenor to Abingdon, saw in a valley many black fowls like crows or ravens, among whorn was one which was all to-rent and torn with the other black birds, and threw him from one to another that it was a piteous sight to see, and they that accompanied Saint Edmund were almost from themselves for fear of the sight. But then Saint Edmund comforted them and said to them what it meant, he said that these be wicked fiends of hell that bear with them a man’s soul, which died right now at Chalgrove, which soul is damned for his wicked living, and then he and his fellows went to Chalgrove and found all things as he had said. Saint Edmund was accustomed to say every day unto our Lady and Saint John the Evangelist the prayer: O intemerata, and on day, for certain business that he had, he forgat it and said it not. Wherefore Saint John appeared to him in a ghastful manner, blaming him greatly for that he had not said it, and after that he said it every day unto his life’s end.

And after this as he sat in a night in his study, labouring in divers of the seven sciences, the spirit of his mother appeared to him in a vision, and charged him to leave to study in particular sciences, but that he should from then forthon labour in divinity only, for that was the will of God, and he hath sent to thee word by me, and this said, she vanished away. And ever after he laboured in divinity so that he profited therein marvellously, so that men wondered of his conning; and when he read divinity in schools, his scholars and hearers profited more in one day than they did of other men’s teaching a whole week. And many of his scholars by his teaching and ensample of living, forsook the world and became religious men. And on a day he came to the school for to dispute of the blessed Trinity, and was there ere any of his scholars came, and fell in slumbering, sitting in his chair, and a white dove brought him the body of our Lord and put it into his mouth, and the dove ascended up into heaven again, and ever after Saint Edmund thought that the sweet savour of our Lord’s flesh was in his mouth, by which he knew great privities of our Lord in heaven, for he passed all the doctors in Oxenford in conning, for he spake more like an angel than a man, and in all his lessons he remembered ever our Lord’s passion. And in a night as he studied long in his books, suddenly he fell asleep and forgat to bless him and to think on the passion of our Lord, and anon the devil lay so heavy on him that he might not bless him with neither hand, and wist not what to do, but through the grace of God he remembered his blessed passion, and then the fiend had no more power, but fell down from him anon. And Saint Edmund then charged the fiend by the virtue of our Lord’s passion, to tell to him how he should best defend him, that he should have no power over him, and then the fiend answered and said: The remembrance of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, for when any man remembreth the passion of Jesu Christ, I have no power over them. And ever after Saint Edmund had full great devotion to the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, and was continually in holy prayers and meditations, for all the delights of the world were but heaviness to him. He was a man of great alms, and often preached and edified the people, and all the people had great devotion to hear him. In that time the pope sent out a crusade against the Turks and miscreants into England, and this holy man, Edmund, was chosen to publish it through the realm, and he stirred much people to receive the crusade, and to go to the Holy Land to fight agamst the enemies of God. And as a young man came with others for to receive the cross, a woman that loved him letted him of his purpose, and drew him away from thence with her hands, and anon her hands were made stiff and hard as a board, and also crooked. And then she made great sorrow, and cried God mercy full meekly, and prayed Saint Edmund to pray for her to our Lord, and he said to her: Woman, wilt thou take the cross? And she said: Yea, sir, full fain, and then she received it and anon was made perfectly whole, and she thanked God and Saint Edmund; and for this miracle much the more people took the cross.

In a time as this holy man preached at Oxenford in the churchyard of All Hallows, and much people being there to hear him, suddenly the weather changed, and waxed all dark in such wise that the people were aghast and afeard, and began fast to flee away from the sermon. And this holy man said to the people: Abide ye still here, for the power of God is stronger than the fiend’s power, for this he doeth for envy to distrouble God’s words. And then Saint Edmund lift up his hands and his mind to Almighty God, and besought him of his mercy and grace; and when he had ended his orison and his prayer, the weather began to withdraw by that other side of the churchyard, and all they that abode still and moved not, but heard the preaching, had not one drop of rain, and they that went away from the preaching were through wet, for there fell so much rain in the high street that men might not go ne ride therein, wherefore the people thanked God and his holy saint for this miracle. And at Winchester another time, as he preached, there was showed a like miracle, for there he chased away such a dark weather by his holy prayer. After, for his blessed living he was chosen to be a high canon of Salisbury, and by the chapter was made common treasurer, where he lived full blessedly in giving alms largely unto the poor people, insomuch that unnethe he kept anything for himself, for which cause he went to the abbey of Stanley, and sojourned there till his rents came in. And the abbot, named Master Stephen Lexington,was sometime his scholar in Oxenford. He was a man of great abstinence, and ate so little meat that men wondered whereby he lived. He ate but seldom flesh. From Shrovetide till Easter he would eat nothing that suffered death, ne in Advent he ate never but Lent meat, and when the archbishop of Canterbury was dead, he was elected and chosen by all the convent to be their bishop, which election was sent to him by three messengers to Salisbury.

But then he was at Calne, which was a prebend of his, and was solitary in his chamber, alone in his prayers, and one of his chaplains came to him and told to him that he was chosen to be archbishop of Canterbury and that the messengers were come to him for the same cause. But Saint Edmund was nothing glad of the tidings, and then the messengers came and did their message and delivered to him letters which he read and understood, and after, said to the messengers: I thank you of your labour and good will, but I am nothing glad of these tidings; notwithstanding I will go to Sahsbury and take counsel of my fellows in this matter. And anon as he was come he laid tofore the whole chapter this matter and showed to them; his letters, and all the chapter advised him to take it upon him. And he, always excusing him, refused it to his power; but at last the bishop of Salisbury, with the chapter, commanded him by virtue of obedience that he should take it on him, and then he humbly, sore weeping, agreed to receive it. And forthwith they led him to the high altar and sang devoutly: Te Deum laudamus, and all the while this holy man wept full bitterly and shed many a tear, and prayed devoutly to our Lord to have mercy on him, and besought our blessed Lady and Saint John Evangelist to pray for him and to help him in his need. And then after he was brought to Canterbury and there in time and space was consecrated, and stalled into the see of the archbishop, and so ruled the church of England that all men spake good of him. And he did great penance and gave great alms to poor people.

And on a time a poor tenant of his died, and the bailiff took his best beast for a mortuary, and then the poor widow which had lost her husband, and also her best beast, came to this holy man, Saint Edmund, and complained to him of her great poverty and prayed him for the love of God that he would give her again her beast. And he said: Ye know well that the chief lord must have the best beast, but if so be that I deliver to thee again this beast, wilt thou keep him well to my behoof till I ask him again another time ? To whom she said: Yea, sir, with a good will to your pleasure, or else God defend, and pray for you also that ye vouchsafe to do so much grace to me a poor wretch. And then he commanded his bailiff to deliver it to her and she kept it after to her life’s end. This holy man was merciful to poor people and full truly to his power maintained all the right of holy church. And the devil, having ever envy on good works, set a debate between the king and him, which was Henry III. son of king John, which desired certain points against the liberties of holy church. But this good archbishop withstood him to his power, and prayed the king to spare holy church for the love of God, and maintain them as he was bounden and had promised. But the king would not hear him, but expressly did certain things against the right of the church and menaced greatly Saint Edmund. And when Saint Edmund saw the king so cruel against the church he spake sharply unto the king, and at the last executed the censures against them that vexed it, and cursed them that took away the liberties of it. And when the king heard of this cursing he was greatly moved against Saint Edmund, howbeit this holy man was firm and constant in his holy purpose, which was ready to put his life in jeopardy for the right of the church. And Saint Thomas of Canterbury appeared to him, and bade him to maintain and hold the right of the church to his power, and rather to suffer death than to lese any of the liberties and franchises of holy church, like as he did. And after that Saint Edmund was more bold to abide and maintain the liberties of the church. And he taking ensample of Saint Thomas, how he went into France to the end that the king should be better disposed, and in likewise did Saint Edmund, and went over sea, trusting to God that the king would better be disposed and forsake his opinions; and was in the abbey of Pounteney in high France six years, praying for the good state of the church of England and lived there so holy and perfect a life that every man had joy of him. And in short time after, he became sick and feeble, and his friends counselled him to remove thence, and then he departed and went to a place called Soly, which is twenty miles thence, but the monks of Pounteney made great sorrow for his departing. But he comforted them and said: I promise you to be with you at Saint Edmund’s day, king and martyr. And as he came into Soly he waxed so sick that he knew well that he should hastily depart out of this world, and then he desired to receive the sacraments of the church, which, when he had received with great reverence, he passed out of this life unto our Lord, full of virtues, in the year of our Lord twelve hundred and forty. And from the town of Soly he was brought again to Pounteney upon Saint Edmund’s day, king and martyr, and where he might not keep his promise alive, he performed it when he was dead. And the monks of Pounteney received him worshipfully and buried him solemnly, and afterwards, for the great miracles that God showed for him there, his bones were taken up and laid in a worshipful shrine tofore the high altar in the said abbey, where our Lord hath showed many a fair miracle for his holy servant Saint Edmund. Then let us devoutly pray to Almighty God that by the merits of this holy man Saint Edmund he have mercy on us and pardon us our sins. Amen.