Edmund of Abingdon also known as Edmund Rich or St Edmund of Canterbury was the 13th century Archbishop of Canterbury in England.
Early life and career
Edmund Rich was born in Abingdon Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) 7 miles south of Oxford, England, on 20th November, 1174 .
He was the first amongst four children.
Edmund Rich who came from a wealthy home studied 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, 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 taught 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.
His mother influenced him towards self-denial and austerity; and this led to his taking up the study of theology.
Between the year 1205 and 1210, he was ordained, took a doctorate in divinity and soon became known as a lecturer in theology and as an impromptu preacher.
Between the year 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.
Archbishop of Canterbury
Edmund was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Gregory IX on the year 1233.
Archbishop Edmund counselled Henry III of England at Westminster, on 2 February 1234, to heed the example of his father, John of England.
A week after his consecration he again appeared before the king with the barons and bishops, then threatening Henry with excommunication to dismiss his councillors, particularly Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester .
Henry yielded, and the favourites 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 favour 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.
Journey to Rome
Edmund strongly defended the rights of Church and State against the tributes and wrongful seizures of Henry III.
On December 1237, Edmund set out for Rome to plead his cause in person. From where he returned to England on August 1238 where his efforts to foster reform were frustrated.
Edmund submitted to the 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. In the year 1240, Edmund set out for Rome. At the Cistercian Pontigny Abbey in France he became sick, began travelling back to England, but died only 50 miles further north, on 16 November 1240, at the house of Augustinian Canons at Soisy-Bouy and was taken back to Pontigny.
It was not up to a year after Edmund’s death that several miracles were recorded at his grave. Six years after his death, he was canonised.
A few years later, the first chapel dedicated to him; St Edmund’s Chapel. At Salisbury a collegiate church and an altar in the cathedral were named after Edmund and St Edmund’s Catholic School in Portsmouth is named after him.
Saint Edmund’s body was not carried 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.
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.
Edmund’s life was one of self-sacrifice and devotion to others. From his childhood, he practised asceticism; such as fasting on Saturdays on bread and water, and wearing a hair shirt.
After snatching a few hours’ sleep, he spent most of the night in prayer and meditation.