A Parish History / About our Patron Saint
Celebrating Catholic saints was out of favor for about five centuries in England, by governmental mandate, following King Henry VIII’s establishing of a national church (Church of England—Anglican) to replace Roman Catholicism, and when his country broke with the Vatican, England also proceeded to take away key rights of their Catholic citizens. In the post-Reformation time, Catholics fled from their homeland, or remained and were terribly persecuted, or they succumbed to (forcedly) become converts to the Church of England. Thus, St. Edward the Confessor, king and saint of England, had a serious decline of attention for 500 years in his native land—until some recent return of Catholicism to the nation, and a returned pride over a man who could be both a holy saint AND a national leader at the same time.
King Henry VIII’s schism managed to subtract much of Catholic faith in his country; and ban the veneration of Catholic saints. Yet, since the Catholic Edward had been a King of England, he could not easily be dismissed. People remembered Edward’s legacy. He was a former king, too, that called for certain respects given to his life. Edward was born in England, in line to the throne, in 1003. He lived until 1066. Through a series of events linked to the Dane/Viking infiltration into England, Edward’s father died but his mother wed the Dane leader, Canut, leaving Edward to be dismissed and exiled out of England, to be raised by his mother’s relatives in Normandy. It was in 1042 that Edward’s fate changed and he was found to be on the throne as King of England, no longer a Norman exile. Edward’s great story of leading England until his January 5th death in 1066 is a good one. We will have a few pages here to review it; we will use a few different historical angles that have been used on St. Edward the Confessor/King’s life. Yet the comparison to how good one saintly leader can be to a nation (Edward) and how bad one anti-Catholic and adulterous leader can be to a nation (Henry) should be drawn at the start of this story. And, it points out that it’s hard to be a holy king or president. There is such a temptation to power, glory, riches and worldliness.
That we have information on St. Edward’s life is owed mostly to his royal status. When books recorded his story, and the faith aspect of it, and were kept in places like the many monasteries across England—these were targets of destruction when King Henry VIII came around and had his famous break with the Catholic Church and her influence over English citizens. Much was destroyed by Henry to cut England’s ties to the Church of a millennia-and-a-half. It would be the Church of England from his reign on—with himself and royalty as head of the Christian faith in English territories. Only now in recent decades (post World War II) has Catholicism had a return in open practice and favor in England or in her territories under control.
This mid-Atlantic territory of Maryland, D.C., and Virginia were once under the control of the English King. America’s independence in 1776 changed all that. It is a joy for Catholics, then, in this mid-Atlantic region, that we not only have hundreds of Catholic parishes from Baltimore to Washington to Williamsburg, but that several of them are named in the patronage of “St. Edward the Confessor.” He is a Catholic hero of English lineage not lost on us. He is remembered and celebrated. The New World had a Catholic expansion to it, and in the start of a new millennium of The Church, we have a St. Edward the Confessor parish here in Bowie, Maryland (The Archdiocese of Washington), and one in the city of Baltimore, Md. (The Archdiocese of Baltimore), and another one in Richmond, Virginia (The diocese of Richmond). Thusly, Catholicism from England (and in the line of Edward’s Catholic England) has come here to America and prevailed among us. It is going strong in these parishes, like ours in Bowie, and the seed planted on Annunciation Day 1634 (Maryland’s founding and the First Mass in the mid-Atlantic region) has grown. Religious freedom has allowed all different kinds of churches in America, including Anglican/Episcopalian ones here (England’s national church begun with King Henry VIII), but there are even a few hundred Catholic parishes now in just the four dioceses that make up Maryland, DC, and Virginia. So, there is a historic meaning and happiness that a few of them are named for St. Edward the Confessor, English king and saint, a man who helped his country have a rich 25 years of Catholic faith for his citizens under his rule. That Catholic faith is passed on here to the places where English colonial expansion came. (Only Maryland originally had religious freedom for Catholics, at its outset.)
This region’s Catholics now live in allegiance to the United States of America, but still in a first allegiance to God. A west side stained-glass window in our parish sanctuary reminds us of that—with the fire of the Holy Spirit coming down from atop and the names of a few faithful Englishmen of the Church listed below, such as English martyr St. Thomas More. More was inspired by the example of St. Edward the Confessor.
Edward lived a Catholic life from his youth into the throne chair of England that acknowledged the Lordship of Christ over him and all peoples and nations.
(Edward was blessed to have people nurture his Catholic faith and heritage in his youth—we will get to that story later. )
EDWARD THE CONFESSOR was a loyal servant to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church while in service as head of the nation. King Edward (1042-66) ruled justly and built up a Catholic England. He became a model of governmental service in the Name of the Lord, and was named a Catholic Saint by Pope Alexander III in the 12th century. King Henry VIII (1491-1547), rather, is viewed in history, now, as a self-serving monarch, whose lust for women (many wives) and power and control—took a nation with him on that path. Some say England has never recovered from his immoral influence. Yet, with the intercession of such loyal saints of the former England, like Edward, there is a movement of a Catholic revival going on in England. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s conversion to Catholicism is but one example of it.
A Pious Story of St. Edward's Life
Edward has visions and signs all during his life
The image of the saintly king holding a ring in his hand is something you see often in depictions of him. Why is that?
The Ring Story
“One day, the old king was attending the dedication of a church in honor of St. John, when a poor man came up to him, and begged an alms “for the love of St. John.” St. Edward put his hand to his purse, but neither silver nor gold could he find. He sent for his almoner, but he was lost in the crowd; and still the poor man stood before him and begged. Edward was in great distress, till he remembered that he wore a large and very precious ring. This he drew from his finger; and for the love of St. John he gave it to the beggar, who thanked him gently, and disappeared.
And now you shall hear what happened to the ring. That night, far away in Palestine, two English pilgrims lost their way in the wilderness. The sun had set behind the bare mountains, and the two men were all alone in the desolate place, knowing not which way to turn, nor where to find shelter from robbers and wild beasts. As they were wondering what to do, a band of youths in bright raiment appeared before them; and in their midst was an old man, white and hoary, and wonderful to look upon.“Dear friends,” he said to the pilgrims, “Whence come you? Of what creed and birth are you? Of what kingdom and king? What seek you here?” “We are Christians, and from England. We have come to expiate our sins, seeking the holy places where Jesus lived and died. Our king is named Edward; and we have lost our way.”
“Come after me, and I will conduct you to a good hostelry for the love of King Edward.” So he led them to a city, where they found an inn with the table laid for supper; and, after they had eaten, they went to rest. Next morning the old man came to them, and said: “I am John the Evangelist. For the love of Edward I will not fail you, and you shall arrive safe and sound in England. Then go to Edward, and say you have brought a ring which he gave to me at the dedication of my church, when I besought him in poor array. And tell him that in six months he shall come to me in Paradise.”
The pilgrims came back to England without misadventure, and gave the ring back to Edward with St. John’s message. When the king heard that he was soon to die, he gave away all his money to those who were in need, and passed his time in devotion.”
St. Edward's Feast Day is October 13 Parish Feast: Oct. 13).
His Holy Title
Edward the Confessor; Man of Peace
Edward is not a priest, as in like a “confessor” in the confessional, he is a lay saint. Edward was a public figure of great Christian witness; Edward confessed by word and deed of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in his soul, and of his fidelity to Christ’ Church in mind and heart and purpose. It was that kind of confessing. He lived out his faith in mighty deed and word.
The Bible says that we are to “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Edward did so in a marvelous way to transform his whole country. He did so by openly and fully in living his Catholic faith while also being a king.
England has a Catholic history going back to the earliest of times, with St. Augustine of Canterbury doing much to advance the gospel in the 500’s, and nearby Ireland has its story of a 5th c. Scotsman (St. Patrick) who converted Ireland to Catholicism (after formerly being kidnapped to Ireland--then escaping to Britain—then becoming a priest—then becoming a missionary and returning to evangelize Ireland).
So, in the turn of the First Christian millennium (1000 A.D.), God had arranged matters to give England a holy king. Born in 1003 a.d. but made an exiled child of right to the throne, Edward grew up and lived from 10-years-old into his forties in Normandy, when then history and providence brought Edward back to receive his rightful throne in his home of England. He arrived with a strong Catholic upbringing fostered in his exile. He would put into practice all of his rich Catholic faith in his opportunity to reign. It IS an amazing story.
Normally, one’s reigning as a king or national ruler does tempt a man to compromise his faith and morals as well as lessen his practice of Roman Catholicism. However, in King Edward’s case, he thrived in his Catholic faith at the throne for two dozen years. That such Christian goodness could survive so long in him, while sitting in royal power, is part of St. Edward’s remarkable story.
Edward was raised devoutly in Catholic faith in his Normandy upbringing and exile, and he kept to that faith for all of his life.
One social justice credit to his later reign as King of England was one of almost unbroken peace in England in his times; that the threatened invasion of a step-brother, Sweyn of Norway, son of Canute, was averted by the opportune attack on him by Sweyn of Denmark. This was a sign of providence.
So was that the internal difficulties occasioned by the ambition of Earl Godwin and his sons were settled without bloodshed by Edward's own gentleness and prudence. His marriage for peace to Edith Godwin (an prominent Anglo-Saxon family) worked a traditional means for concord rather than discord among rivals. Furthermore, King Edward undertook no wars except to repel an inroad of the Welsh, and to assist Malcolm III of Scotland against Macbeth, the usurper of his throne.
Edward: Saintly Keeper of his Neighbor
Being devoid of personal ambition, Edward's one aim was the welfare of his people. He remitted the odious taxes; though profuse in alms to the poor and for religious purposes. He also made his own royal patrimony suffice without imposing taxes. Such was the contentment caused by "the good St. Edward's laws," that their enactment was repeatedly demanded by later generations when they felt themselves oppressed.
Because of this other-centeredness of an English King, some unbelievers who are historians call Edward’s kingship as weak. Wrongly misreading him in posterity, they view his Catholic faith as his weak side, or his weakness. Yet Catholics see it a whole different way. Edward was humble and meek, practicing the Lord’s Beatitudes. Jesus Christ calls this kind of living as “blessed” or happy. Jesus Christ calls the reward of such living as being promised by Him to attain the kingdom of heaven for it.
Edward was good and compassionate and loving; like his Master Jesus Christ. Edward wished to build up a people and a church, much like a favorite saint of his, Simon Peter. Edward wished to live a pious life of chastity, even while obligated to take a wife for the throne. Edward imitated St. Joseph in this way. Edward would not be a ruthless aggressor.
England did hold on to Catholicism and allegiance to Rome for a few centuries after Edward’s reign. Then, there would be the persecution of the Church and the departing of many Catholics from the land. It was due to Anglicanism, the rise of the king of England to claim to be the ruler of the Church (and not the pope, or not the bishops). It had to do with nationalism. It had to do with the King’s mortal sins and his wish to excuse himself, rather than follow Church teaching. In the end, a new Church of England was begun (Anglicanism, Episcopalian Christianity, and its offshoots)
Six centuries after Edward’s reign of Christian witness came English rulers who wanted to do away with the Catholic Church. In our western stained-glass parish window aside the sanctuary, we have the face of one famous Englishman of whom the King of England (Henry VIII) persecuted because of keeping Catholic faith (against the king’s wishes); it was one St. Thomas More. More defended the truth that the ultimate service of a man is to God, and that while he would try to be the king’s great servant, it would not be in defiance of God. The king killed him for treason. More said that his fidelity to the king was only outmatched by his fidelity to God, but that it should not be put to the test that man be exalted higher than God. “Lead me not into temptation, into the test of service of self over Maker, and deliver us all from evil. For God’s is The Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever. Amen.” (<More’s prayer.)
What an opposite turn it was for England in the Reformation and on! The king worked and fought VERSUS the Church; while when in those blessed times under King Edward the people had a man committed to growing the Catholic Faith!
While not all the English to first land on our Potomac River shores were Catholics, there were mostly English Catholics among them, with two Jesuit clergy aboard ship, too. Mass was prayed at St. Clement’s Island by Fr. Andrew White, S.J. to officially begin Mary’s Land.
This established the first mission on the mid-Atlantic seacoast range with religious freedom and a place for Catholics to come and worship in the New World. Eventually, this led to Baltimore becoming the first diocese of the 13 colonies, in the city of Lord Baltimore Calvert—the Catholic family high up in English rule. A locally raised man and ordained Jesuit priest from Upper Marlboro, Md. became the nation’s first bishop. Archbishop John Carroll, at first, had a whole nation as a diocese.
Maryland Day is still held on March 25th. Festive events happen down there in St. Mary’s County, Maryland at the landing site and first colony and first State House/Governor’s House. A replica of the first Catholic chapel is built at the colony site today, too.
In 1972, three hundred and thirty eight years after the above landing of Catholics in Maryland, a parish to Edward the Confessor in Bowie was started. It was ours, and it added to being another of (at least) 200 Catholic parishes in Maryland, begun to the glory of God. St. Edward, Pray for Us!
Here is included another narrative of King and Saint Edward of England.
Related to the other St. Edward, the earlier English Catholic martyr (d. 979 a.d.) called “Saint Edward the Martyr,” our Holy King and St. Edward is known as the next Edward saint. He is known and distinguished to God and man by the beautiful title of “St. Edward the Confessor.” The Church, in Her account of his life, sets forth more particularly the virtues which won him so glorious an appellation; but we must remember moreover that his reign of 24 years was one of the happiest England has ever known.
A “Good” King
Edward is remembered for his goodness, which was inspired by his faith. For Christians, it is a plus. For critics of Edward the king in history, sometimes his goodness was seen as a sign of weakness or not being in command as a king should exert.
Of those who do not appreciate or value Christian piety and the other-centered life that Jesus espoused-- (“This is the Commandment of God, I say, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength… and love one another—your neighbor as yourself.”)--- they probably could not understand King Edward’s life. Of some of the historic books written on Edward, more than a number of them ridicule him on his goodness and Christian weakness. These books and writers just show us Catholics how a person not of The Faith will not know what Jesus meant in his Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” In Catholic Faith, meekness is not weakness. Meekness is a proper and healthy human attitude that we were born with as servants of God, but by sin we have forsaken the mindset as too sacrificial for others—aiming to get what “Self” wants, and not the Common Good. We need meekness in our society, and particularly among our leaders. They are meant to be leader-servants, as by the way the reign of God.
St. Edward the Confessor was a king who practiced his faith openly and who went to the people to know them and care for them. He also enjoyed the position God had given to him, even taking to various sporting recreation. He was thankful to God. This was expressed in his often going to daily Mass.
Edward was the King of England from 1042 to 1066. He died peacefully in the start of that 1066 year. The Danes, who had invaded and run England in the 1000’s, were not in control anymore in Edward’s time. They became entirely subjugated within the kingdom, and without, held at bay by the noble attitude of the Prince; Macbeth, the usurper of the Scottish throne, vanquished in a campaign that Shakespeare has immortalized.
Edward was such a good governor of the common citizen, he is remembered for his St. Edward's Laws, which remain to this day the basis of the British constitution. Also recalled is the Saint's munificence towards all noble enterprises, while at the same time he diminished the country’s taxes: all this proves with sufficient clearness, that the sweetness of virtue, which made him the intimate spiritual friend of St. John the Beloved Disciple, is not incompatible with the greatness of a monarch. Yet how often has a king been a saint? (Our parish has a saint relief of St. John in the east sanctuary wall. The parish church builders did some obvious research of Edward’s favorite saints.)
Edward was a unique king in history in that he was one who prayed often and who openly exercised spiritual gifts of the Spirit.
Edward spoke of his visits from St. John. His prayer life with this saint was extraordinary; the intercession and help was so great. This Communion with the Saints is our Catholic Creedal teaching, but it takes great personal prayer devotion to attain it on a personal level like Edward did.
Edward spoke of the spiritual gifts of healing and of prophecy which were given to him in his Catholic faith, which he regularly used. He reached out to people of skin diseases and somehow had occasions to heal them. He understood in the Holy Spirit of things to anticipate, and they would happen that way later, and Edward would have been prepared to handle them. Extraordinary!
Edward, surnamed the Confessor, nephew to St. Edward, King and Martyr, was the last of the Anglo-Saxon race on the throne. Our Lord revealed that he would one day be king, to a holy man named Brithwald. When Edward was ten years old, the Danes, who were devastating England, sought his life; he was therefore obliged to go into exile, to the court of his uncle the Duke of Normandy. With his father dead, and his mother marrying the Dane invader—Edward had a challenging life of being parent-less. In his exile to France (Normandy), the opportunity for his right to the throne seemed to be an impossibility now.
Amid the vices and temptations of the Norman court, he grew up pure and innocent, a subject of admiration to all. His pious devotion towards God and holy things was most remarkable. He was of a very gentle disposition, and so great a stranger to ambition that he was wont to say he would rather forgo the kingdom than take possession of it by violence and bloodshed. On the death of the tyrants who had murdered his brothers and seized their kingdom, he was recalled to his native country of England, and ascended the throne to the greatest satisfaction and joy of all his subjects. He then applied himself to remove all traces of the havoc wrought by the enemy. To begin at the sanctuary, he built many churches and restored others, endowing them with rents and privileges; wanting to see his religion, which had been neglected, flourishing again. All writers assert that, though compelled by his nobles to marry, both he and his bride preserved their virginity intact. Edward was legally wed. The chose the path of living as brother and sister to one another. There’s was a marriage for political peace—in the union of families. Yet what he wanted to do, and in agreement with his wife and queen, Edna, was to live the moral life and one free of fleshly allurement. It was a religious union of virginity. Such a marriage may be seen as odd today, but Edward saw that it was modeled by the one and only St. Joseph to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Such were his love of Christ and his faith, that Edward was one day permitted to see Our Lord in the Mass, shining with a heavenly light and smiling upon him. His lavish charity won him the name of “father of orphans and of the poor;” and he was never so happy as when he had shared from the royal treasury on their behalf.
Edward was honored with the gift of prophecy, and foresaw much of England's future history. It is remarkable that when Sweyn, King of Denmark, was drowned in the very act of embarking on his fleet to invade England, Edward was supernaturally aware of the event the very moment it happened. Edward (himself) died most piously on a January day foretold in a prophecy passed onto him (by a St. John vision), in 1066.
In the following century, Pope Alexander III enrolled him in the order of sainthood. He did not want such a good king, famous for his miracles, to be left out among the canonized saints. Pope Innocent XI took it a further step, as he ordered Edward’s memory to be celebrated by the whole Church with a public Office on the day of his translation, which took place 36 years after his death, his body being found incorrupt and exhaling a sweet fragrance.
Here, next, is a third source on the Life of St. Edward. It covers some of the ground told in the above pair of sources, but it does add some information, too.
A third telling of the story of St. Edward the Confessor, king and saint
St. Edward was the son of Ethelred II and Emma, daughter of Duke Richard of Normandy. When barely ten years old, he was sent with his brother, Alfred, into Normandy to be brought up at the court of the duke, his uncle. The Danes, under Sweyn and his son, Canute, gained the mastery in England. After the death of Ethelred, Emma married Canute and he became King of England.
Thus Edward spent the best years of his life in exile, the crown having been settled by Canute, with Emma's consent, upon his own offspring by her. Early misfortune thus taught Edward the folly of ambition, and he grew up in innocence, delighting chiefly in assisting at Mass and the church offices, and in association with religious.
Upon Canute's death in 1035 his illegitimate son, Harold, seized the throne and Edward and his brother Alfred were persuaded to make an attempt to gain the crown, which resulted in the cruel death of Alfred who had fallen into Harold's hands, whilst Edward was obliged to return to Normandy.
In 1042, upon the death of the king, Edward was called by acclamation to the throne at the age of about 40, being welcomed even by the Dane settlers owing to his gentle saintly character. Yielding to the entreaty of his nobles, he accepted as his consort the virtuous Edith, Earl Godwin's daughter. Having, however, made a vow of chastity, he first required her agreement to live with him only as a sister.
Edward had not planned to be a married man. He had lived in purity in his life up to his royal times, and this ‘vocation’ helped him to develop much holiness and good works. Edward was even reported to have the power to heal by touch.
Yet Edward understood the meaning of marriage to a man on the throne. It was not depicted as a romantic or religious act by the people, but more as a governmental action for peace. He, being a Norman and of Emma’s line, would wed a Saxon, of England’s long heritage, and to appease the people, especially influenced by the Earl of the Godwin family, as we mentioned a page ago.
The marriage and his elevation to king removed any of Edward’s plans to one day go to the Holy Land and visit the lands where Peter and Paul helped to build up the early Church. Edward wanted, then, to use his influence as king to give honor to Peter in England with a mighty church. He bound himself to the erection of the West Minster’s Abbey, a magnificent church to the dedication of St. Peter. The dedication took place a week before his death. He was buried there.
Our parish has a statue to St. Edward, and in it he is holding Westminster Abbey in his arms. This is by the front entrance of church. There also is a photo of his tomb, which can be seen in that church (now, sadly, mostly turned into a museum).
The Canonization Cause
Again, taken from another internet site, here are details on who helped Edward’s cause to sainthood. Extra added comments to it are given in italics.
After 1066 there was a religious following of good fervor of Edward as to be recognized as a saint. This probably happened because of the big political change that took place right after Edward’s throne.
While Edward was of a Norman background, he was still seen as the last king of an Anglo-Saxon era, and of Dane/Viking influence. The Norman abbots of Westminster possibly discouraged any high recognition of Edward’s sanctity, not because it wasn’t believed to be true, but because of the turn of governments and control made it (as we say today) not politically correct.
The Normans time began in 1066. While Edward was raised and lived half of his life in Normandy, he had married a Saxon for peace between Normans and Saxons. His wife gave him no heirs. Thusly, when Edward died, there was a dispute to who would be the successor to the throne. Both sides vied for that favor. William the Conquerer saw to it that the Norman side won. His victory of the Battle of Hastings was a turning point in English history. A good book to read on it is called “1066.”
Osbert of Clare, a prior of Westminster Abbey, though, did start to campaign for Edward's canonization, aiming to increase the stature of his Abbey. By 1138 a.d., he had converted the Vita Ædwardi, the life of Edward commissioned by his widow, into a conventional saint's life book for regular people to read. Osbert put his own spin on things in the book. He highlighted He seized on an ambiguous passage which might have meant that their marriage was chaste, perhaps to give the idea that Edith's childlessness was not her fault, to claim that Edward had been celibate. In 1139 Osbert went to Rome to petition for Edward's canonization with the support of King Stephen, but he lacked the full support of the English hierarchy and Stephen had quarreled with the Church, so Pope Innocent II postponed a decision, declaring that Osbert lacked sufficient testimonials of Edward's holiness. Yes, it is no easy task getting the Church fully convinced the need another saint, especially if there is anything fishy or suspicious or unfavorable about the candidate for it.
In 1160 a new abbot of Westminster, Laurence, seized the opportunity to renew Edward's claim. This time, it had the full support of the king and the English hierarchy, and a grateful pope issued the bull of canonization on 7 February 1161, the result of a conjunction of the interests of Westminster Abbey, King Henry II and Pope Alexander III
Edward the Saint was called 'Confessor' as the name for someone who was believed to have lived a saintly life but was not a martyr or churchman.
In the 1230s England’s King Henry III became attached to the cult of Saint Edward, and he commissioned a new life by Matthew Paris. Meaning? A new saint’s story book about Edward. Henry also constructed a grand new tomb for Edward in a rebuilt Westminster Abbey in 1269.
How was there a dispute of who became pope in 1159? Germany wanted somebody different, who had only a minority of Cardinals voting for him. They tried to force their choice, who history now calls an anti-pope, as the ‘better’ candidate for the world, but their efforts failed. Alexander III had the obvious support and kept on.
Until about 1350, Edmund the Martyr, Gregory the Great and Edward the Confessor (the three standing saints seen above, Richard II is the one kneeling) were regarded as English national saints, but Edward III preferred the more war-like figure of St George, and in 1348 he established the Order of the Garter with St George as its patron. It was located at Windsor Castle, and its chapel of St Edward the Confessor was re-dedicated to St George, who was acclaimed in 1351 as patron of the English race. Edward was never a popular saint, but he was important to the Norman dynasty, which claimed to be the successor of Edward as the last legitimate Anglo-Saxon king.
The shrine of Saint Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey remains where it was after the final translation of his body to a chapel east of the sanctuary on 13 October 1269 by Henry III. The day of his translation, the 13th of October (his first translation had also been on that date in 1163), is regarded as his feast day, and each October the Abbey (Westminster Abbey in London) holds a week of festivities and prayer in his honor. For some time the Abbey had claimed that it possessed a set of coronation regalia that Edward had left for use in all future coronations. Following Edward's canonization, these were regarded as holy relics, and thereafter they were used at all English coronations from the 13th century until the destruction of the regalia by Oliver Cromwell in 1649.
Ordinary life in England a Thousand Years Ago
Research for this background on St. Edward the Confessor involved lots of books and documents. One enjoyable one, read at the beach, was “A Thousand Years Ago.” It is an easy historical book to peruse. (Many history books are not beach readable!)
I also went to various web sites that had info and pictures on them. I will include some of it below—at least of which seemed “open to the public.”
What was life like 1000 years ago in England for Edward and his times? Here are some points from the book of some interesting revelation…
For example, their diet was very different to ours. No spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, tea, coffee or chicken was in the diet. There was little sugar to be found, but the good result of that was that people’s teeth were better off. Farming life was hard, and overall hygiene was of little importance, as without knowledge of disease subsistence and survival was placed higher on the list than clean dinner plates. Smelly residences were taken as given, as one simply lived with the inconvenience of dung from animals as part of daily life. No smoke from cars, or cigarettes, or noise from airplanes and highways was present to them, but life was smelly from everyday living. Washing was not an everyday occurrence, and full bathing was not frequent. (The exception would be for the king and his family and court, of course, so think of King Edward having it all pretty good.) For the commoner, there were no forks at the table, just knives. If you dropped your food on the floor, you ate it, but one likely recited a saintly word for the privilege. Food wasn’t always safe or clean—even for the rich—as it is told that King Henry the First died from eating "a surfeit of lampreys" (eel-like fish).
July through August was England’s least favorite time of year, because it was when food from the earth was the least plentiful. People often went fairly hungry in that Summer time until the harvest season came around. Storage of food was still pretty primitive. Thus, food (and one’s eating) was of a high priority in life. The possibility of famine was ever present and "haunted the imagination" (infanticide was not considered a crime in times of famine). One common site in England were vineyards. The juice of the grape was favored a lot. England also had a benefit of waterways and an ocean surrounding them.
After eating, there was bad news ahead. There was no toilet paper, but there was moss. The English monks' euphemism for a toilet was a "necessarium." Most people had to “go outside” behind bushes or trees for their “business.”
Clothes were less flamboyant, but colored by innovative dyes. You wore your same clothes for several days. Undergarments were what was washed more regularly. Washing was by hand, drying was usually done with the sun and wind’s help. Buttons were not invented yet for clothing. Clothing were hung on hooks on the walls.
People had colds and died from them back in those times. Yet the weather was warmer in Edward’s time, than it is today. Of course, one only had pit fires or oil lamps lit to keep warm when it was cold weather. During the day, an extra layer of clothes was your way to keep warm. Weather forecasting was only by a close observance of nature.
Although life was short (averaging forty years) and physically hard by today's standards, it had a particular richness, as this passage shows:
"They were practical, self-contained folk, not given to excessive agonizing or self-analysis. They knew how to make and mend, and when their day's work was done, they could also be very good company, since one of the most important things they had learned in their lives was how to entertain themselves… (Compare that to people and their privacy with electronic devices today!)…
The knowledge in their heads had rarely come directly from books - they had learned everything by observing and imitating, usually by standing alongside an adult who was almost certainly their father or mother, and by memorizing everything they needed to survive and enrich their lives."
An interesting point of life 1000 years ago was that The Church and her members were relieved to make it passed the thousand year mark of 1000 A.D. There was great anxiety at the end of the 900’s that the world would end after a millennia after Christ. Just read a few verses from St John's Revelations and see how it played a part in convincing people (mainly clerics, who were the ones who could read) that the end was nigh:
"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hands. He seized the dragon, that serpent of old, the Devil or Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years; he threw him into the abyss, shutting and scaling it over him, so that he might seduce the nations no more till the thousand years were over. After that he must be let loose for a short while."
It seemed that the span of 1000 years had lots of Biblical significance to them. It seemed to be a timely signpost for judgment. Thusly, one can imagine the relief that people had by the time Edward was on the throne (1042): they had survived the purported end of times. We live in a similar time now, having passed another millennial sign post, and making it safely past that thousand year ‘signpost of Doom.’ Phew!!
A St. Edward Parish in the USA had a nice parish seal/emblem. Here it is copied from their website (Edward is dressed royally, and to one side is his secular life and responsibilities, and to the other side is his religious life and responsibilities and priorites. He holds Westminster Abbey in his hands. Our parish statue in the main entrance to St. Edward’s Bowie shows our patron holding Westminster Abbey in his hands, as well. He was the one who had it built for England and Catholics there. One can visit it today. Also below is St. Edward’s seal and a mosaic of him.