The Strange Tale of St Edmund – Mayhem, Murder and Martyrdom In East Anglia
In 869 the Viking’s Great Heathen Army descended on East Anglia and demolished everything in their path. Apparently King Edmund refused to renounce Christ. On the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his evil brother Abba, the King was whipped, shot with arrows, stabbed with spears and finally beheaded.
I say apparently because almost nothing is known about Edmund’s real life, the Viking Army having destroyed any contemporary evidence of his reign. Legend has it that after his decapitation, the head was taken into the forest by a wolf that kept strangers at bay until the Monks could retrieve the head and bury it with his body.
It is said that wolves have not been seen in East Anglia since that day.
Upon exhumation it was discovered that all the arrow wounds on his corpse had healed and his head was reattached and his skin was still soft and fresh as a daisy. A Saint for sure.
In later years writers realized the inherent PR value of having no factual record of Edmund’s reign and quickly began producing accounts of a life filled with miracles. But creating a Saint out of whole cloth is no easy task and just like a great rock band it requires outrageous tales and a lot of touring. The Benedictine Monks lugged the bejeweled box containing his remains all over Southern England, regaling tales of heroic deeds and miracles to anyone with a few coins. It is said that between 900 and 1000 AD, Edmund’s remains did far more traveling then he ever did during his lifetime. They understood very well that saints mean pilgrims and pilgrims mean money.
During the 11th century the shrine at Bury St Edmunds became one of the most famous and wealthy pilgrimage locations in England. For centuries the shrine was visited by various kings, many of whom gave generously to the abbey. The town arose as the wealth and fame of the abbey grew.
But as we all know, fate can be cruel and in 1539, during the English Reformation and the subsequent Dissolution of the Monasteries, all the abbey’s property was seized by the Crown. On November 4,1539 the abbot and his monks were expelled and the abbey was dissolved, but before Cromwell’s troop could arrive the Monks dug up Edmund’s casket and reburied it in or near the abby grounds. For centuries historians have searched for the location of the venerated saint’s holy remains, but all their efforts have been in vain and the secret is still secure.