Today is the feast of Saint Edmund of Abingdon (circa 1174 – 1240), a 13th-century archbishop of Canterbury. He became a respected lecturer in mathematics, dialectics and theology at the Universities of Paris and Oxford. Edmund was born around 1174, possibly on 20th November (the feast of St Edmund the Martyr), in Abingdon in Berkshire (now Oxfordshire). “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. 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 used his lecture fees to build the Lady Chapel of St Peter’s in the East at Oxford. The site where he lived and taught was formed into a medieval academic hall in his name and later incorporated as the college of 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 was ordained, 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. 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. In 1233 he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury by Gregory IX. 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 2nd April 1234.
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. He was reluctant to accept appointment as archbishop but was persuaded to accept when it was pointed out that if he refused, the pope might very well appoint a foreigner. 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 2nd February 1234, to heed the example of his father, king John. 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 councilors, particularly Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester. Henry yielded, and the favorites 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.
Edmund was valued by the local people for his teaching, preaching, study, and his prayer; but his uncompromising stand in favor 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. 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.
Although he was known for his gentleness and courtesy, 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. From this futile mission he returned to England in August 1238 where his efforts to foster reform were frustrated. Edmund submitted to 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 traveling back to England, but died only 50 miles further north, on 16th November 1240, 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 canonized only 6 years after his death, in December 1246. 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 dedicated to Saint Edmund. Today he is remembered in the name of St Edmund Hall, Oxford and St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
Edmund’s body was never translated to Canterbury, because the Benedictine community there resented what they regarded as Edmund’s attacks on their independence. 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. 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. In 1853, the fibula of the Edmund’s left leg was presented to St Edmund’s College, Ware, 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. 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.
Here is a recipe from Libellus De Arte Coquinaria (The Little Book of Culinary Arts), a culinary manuscript containing thirty-five early Northern European recipes. The manuscript consists of recipes in Danish, Icelandic, and Low German with bits of Latin thrown in, dating from the early 13th century. I imagine this style of cooking was well known in England. The recipe looks like a cross between a quiche and a pot pie. Worth a shot. I’ve made a stab at a free translation from Old Danish, but you will have to fill in the gaps.
De cibo qui dicitur koken wan honer.
Man skal gøræ en grytæ af degh, oc skær et høns thær I alt I styki, oc latæ thær I spæk wæl skoren sum ærtær,pipær oc komiæn oc æggi blomæ, wæl slaghæn mæth safran; oc takæ thæn grytæ oc latæ bakæ I en ofn. Thæt hetær kokæn wan honer.
The dish that is called Chicken Pie.
Make a shell of dough, and put into it a hen, cut into pieces. Add bacon, diced the size of peas, pepper, cumin, and egg yolks well beaten with saffron. Then take the pastry shell and bake it in an oven. It is called Chicken Pie.