Saint Alphege of Canterbury


Saint Alphege, also known as Ælfheah was born in Weston on the outskirts of Bath around the year 953 AD. When he came of age he entered the monastery of Deerhurst before becoming an anchorite at the monastery in Bath. While at the monastery in Bath he became well liked and known for his severe austerity and piety. He was quickly elected abbot of the monastery before being elected the Bishop of Winchester in 984 AD. While Bishop he built the organ in the Cathedral of Winchester (So large it could be heard a full mile away and required 24 people to operate), constructed several churches and translated his predecessor's body to a new tomb in the cathedral.


In 1006, Saint Alphege succeeded Aelfric as the Archbishop of Canterbury and went to Rome in 1007 to receive his pallium from Pope John XVIII. He instituted new changes into the liturgy at Canterbury and attended the council of May 1008 alongside The Archbishop of York Wulfstan II. Tragedy and martyrdom were lurking right around the corner.


The Danes raided England again in 1011, only 17 years after a peace treaty had been signed with Olaf Tryggvason. From Sptember 8th to the 29th, the raiding Danish army laid siege to Canterbury before breaking through the lines and ransacking the city.Canterbury Cathedral was completely plundered and set on fire ruing the sack. Saint Alphege was captured and held for ransom for the next seven months.



Saint Alphege refused to allow any ransom to be paid for his release, believing the better spent on the poor and needy in the Kingdom. At the end of seven months captivity, angered by the refusal to pay the enormous ransom for his release, the Danes executed Saint Alphege at the site of Saint Alfege's Church in the village of Greenwich on April 19th, 1012. His death was recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle :


... the raiding-army became much stirred up against the bishop, because he did not want to offer them any money, and forbade that anything might be granted in return for him. Also they were very drunk, because there was wine brought from the south. Then they seized the bishop, led him to their "hustings" on the Saturday in the octave of Easter, and then pelted him there with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth, and sent forth his holy soul to God's kingdom

Saint Alphege was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. He was buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral before being moved in 1023 by King Cnut back to Canterbury. Saint Alphege was canonized by Pope Gregory VII in 1078 and his feast day set for April 19th. When his body was exhumed in 1105, it was found to be wholly incorrupt. His remains were interred into a new shrine sealed with led, north of the high altar after the 1174 fire in Canterbury.




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