The holy Martyr-King Edward was the son of King Edgar the
Peaceable of England and his first wife, Queen Ethelfleda, who
died not long after his birth in 963 or 964. Already before St.
Edward's birth, his father had had a dream. He told this to his
mother, the abbess St. Elgiva, who possessed gifts of
prophecy and wonder-working. She interpreted the dream as
follows: "After your death the Church of God will be attacked.
You will have two sons. The supporters of the second will kill
the first, and while the second will rule on earth the first
will rule in heaven."
Now King Edgar had been anointed twice on the model of King
David: first in 960 or 961, when he became King of England, and
again in 973, when his dominion expanded to the north and west
and he became "Emperor of Britain", receiving the tribute of
eight sub-kings of the Celts and Vikings.
But between these two anointings he had married again and
fathered a second son, Ethelred. When King Edgar died in 975
(his relics were discovered to be incorrupt in 1052), Ethelred's
partisans, especially his mother, argued that Ethelred should be
made king in preference to his elder half-brother Edward, on the
grounds that Edgar had not been anointed when he begat Edward in
959 or 960, and that his first wife, Edward's mother, had never
been anointed, so that the throne should pass to the younger
son, Ethelred, who had been born "in the purple" when both his
parents were anointed sovereigns.
The conflict was settled when the archbishop of Canterbury, St.
Dunstan, seized the initiative and anointed St. Edward. However,
the defeated party of Ethelred did not give up their opposition
to God's chosen one.
St. Edward, according to an early source, "was a young man of
great devotion and excellent conduct. He was completely
Orthodox, good and of holy life. Moreover, he loved above all
things God and the Church. He was generous to the poor, a haven
to the good, a champion of the Faith of Christ, a vessel full of
every virtuous grace."
However, many troubles met the young king on his accession to
the kingdom. A great famine was raging through the land, and,
beginning in the West and spreading to the East, a violent
attack was stirred up against the holy monasteries by a
prominent nobleman named Elfhere. Many of the monasteries which
King Edgar had established were destroyed, and the monks were
forced to flee.
Thus according to a contemporary monastic writer: "The whole
kingdom was thrown into confusion, the bishops were agitated,
the noblemen stirred up, the monks shaken with fear, the people
terrified. The married clergy were glad, for their time had
come. Abbots, with their monks, were expelled, and married
clergy, with their wives, were introduced [in their place]."
The root of the trouble was that in the previous reign the white
clergy [married clergy, PSH] had been expelled from the
monasteries in which they had been living unlawfully, had been
replaced by real monks, and were now seeking to be
re-established in their former place. Also, the nobles coveted
the lands which King Edgar had given to the monasteries. Already
in the previous reign there had been a council to discuss this
question, and when it was suggested that the white clergy be
restored to their place, a voice was heard from a cross on the
wall: "Far be it from you! You have done well: to change again
would be wrong."
In spite of this, the pressure continued and erupted into
violence at the beginning of the reign of King Edward. However,
King Edward and Archbishop Dunstan stood firm in a series of
stormy councils attended by all the leading men of Church and
State. Thus at one council, which took place at Kirtlington,
Oxfordshire, after Pascha, 977, the tension was so great that
the king's tutor, a bishop, died suddenly during the
Then, at another council in Calne, Wiltshire, when the white
clergy were renewing their complaints, St. Dunstan said: "Since
in my old age you exert yourselves to the stirring up of old
quarrels, I confess that I refuse to give in, but commit the
cause of His Church to Christ the Judge." As he spoke the house
was suddenly shaken; the floor of the upper room in which they
were assembled collapsed, and the enemies of the Church were
thrown to the ground and crushed by the falling timber. Only the
beam on which the archbishop was sitting on did not move.
In all this turmoil King Edward stood firm together with the
archbishop in defense of the Church and the monasteries. For
this reason some of the nobles decided to remove him and replace
him with his weaker younger brother. They seized their
opportunity on March 18, 979.
On that day the king was out hunting with dogs and horsemen near
Wareham in Dorset. Turning away from this pursuit, the king
decided to visit his young brother Ethelred, who was being
brought up in the house of his mother at Corfe Castle (below), near
Wareham. He took a small retinue with him, but suddenly, as if
playing a joke on him, his retinue broke up and went off in all
directions, leaving him to continue on his way alone.
When Ethelred's mother, Queen Etheldritha, heard from her
servants that the young king was approaching, she hid the evil
design in her heart and went out to meet him in an open and
friendly manner, inviting him into her house. But he declined,
saying that he only wished to see his brother and talk to him.
The queen then suggested that while he was waiting he should
have a drink. The king accepted. At that moment one of the
queen's party went up to the king and gave him a kiss like
Judas. For then, just as the king was lifting the cup to his
lips, the man who had kissed him leapt at him from the front and
plunged a knife in his body. The king slipped from the saddle of
his horse and was dragged with one foot in the stirrup until he
fell lifeless into a stream at the base of the hill on which
Corfe Castle stands.
The queen then ordered that the holy body be seized and hidden
in a hut nearby. In obedience to her command, the servants took
the body by the feet and threw it ignominiously into the hut,
concealing it with some mean coverings.
Now there lived in that hut a woman blind from birth whom the
queen used to support out of charity. While she spent the night
there alone with the holy body, suddenly, in the middle of the
night, a wonderful light appeared and filled the whole hut.
Struck with awe, the poor woman cried out: "Lord, have mercy!"
At this, she suddenly received her sight, which she had so long
desired. And then, removing the covering, she discovered the
dead body of the holy king. The present church of St. Edward at
Corfe (image below) stands on the site of this miracle.
The stream into which the holy king's body first fell was found
to have healing properties. Many pilgrims who washed their eyes
in the water recovered or improved their sight. These include
two reported cases in modern times.
At dawn the next day, when the queen learned of the miracle, she
was troubled and decided to conceal the body in a different way.
She ordered her servants to take it up and bury it in a marshy
place. At the same time she commanded that no one should grieve
over the king's death, or even speak about it. Then she retired
to a manor in her possession called Bere, about ten miles from
Meanwhile, such grief took hold of Ethelred over his brother's
death that he could not stop weeping. This angered his mother,
who took some candles and beat him with them viciously, hoping
thereby to stem the flow of his tears. It is said that
thereafter Ethelred so hated candles that he would never allow
them to be lit in his presence.
When St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, heard the news he
was greatly saddened by the death of his beloved spiritual son,
and at the coronation of his half-brother, Ethelred, at Kingston
he prophesied great sorrow for the English people in the coming
The prophecy was exactly fulfilled after Dunstan's death in 988,
when the pagan Danes invaded England and eventually, in 1016,
after over twenty years of bloody war, conquered the country.
The contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle expressed the universal
horror felt by the English Orthodox people at this time:
deed for the English was ever done than this, since first
they came to the land of Britain. Men murdered him, but God
exalted him; in life he was an earthly king, but after death
he is now a heavenly saint. His earthly kinsmen would not
avenge him, yet his Heavenly Father has amply avenged him.
Those earthly slayers would have destroyed his memory upon
earth; but the Heavenly Avenger has spread his fame abroad,
in the heavens and upon the earth. Those who before would
not bow in reverence to his living body, now humbly bend the
knee to his dead bones. Now can we perceive that the wisdom
of men, their deliberations and their plots, are as nothing
against God's purpose."
Almost a year passed, and it pleased Almighty God to make known
the heavenly glory of the martyr-king. A pillar of fire was seen
over the place where his body was hidden, lighting up the whole
area. This was seen by some devout inhabitants of Wareham, who
met together and raised the body from the place where it lay.
Immediately a sweet, clear spring of healing water sprang up in
that place. Then, accompanied by a huge crowd of mourners, the
body was taken to the church of the Most Holy Mother of God in
Wareham and buried at the east end of the church. This first
translation of the holy relics took place on February 13, 980.
Meanwhile, the queen's deceit and treachery were made known
throughout the country, the fame of the innocent martyr-king
increased, and many signs and miracles testified to his
holiness. The nobleman Elfhere, deeply repenting of his
destruction of monasteries and opposition to the king, decided
to have the body translated to a worthier resting place. Bishops
and abbots were invited, together with Abbess Wulfrida of Wilton
and the nuns of Wilton monastery, who included St. Edith, the
king-martyr's half-sister. A great number of laymen and women of
Dorset also converged on Wareham.
Then the holy body was disinterred in the presence of the whole
people and was found to be completely incorrupt. Seeing this,
St. Dunstan and the other bishops led the people in hymns of
praise to God, while St. Edith ran up to her brother's body and
embraced it with tears of joy and sorrow combined.
Then the body was lifted onto a bier and with a great procession
of clergy and laity was taken to Shaftesbury, to the women's
monastery founded in the ninth century by St. Edward's ancestor,
King Alfred the Great, in honor of the Most Holy Mother of God.
The procession began on February 13, 981 and arrived at
Shaftesbury seven days later, on February 20. There the holy
body was received with honor by the nuns and was buried with
great ceremony on the north side of the altar.
Shaftesbury Abbey ruins
The Great Seal of Shaftesbury Abbey
On the way from Wareham to Shaftesbury, two poor men who were so
bent over and paralyzed that they could hardly crawl on their
hands and knees were brought close to the bier. Those carrying
it then lowered the sacred body down to their level, and
immediately in the sight of all they were restored to full
health. A great shout rose to the heavens, and all together
glorified the holy martyr.
On hearing of the miracles worked through the saint, Queen
Etheldritha was overcome by remorse and decided to go to him to
ask forgiveness. But as she was riding to Shaftesbury with her
servants, her horse suddenly stopped and refused to go further,
nor would he be moved by blows of the whip and threats.
Then the queen realized that she was held back by the force of
her sins. Jumping off the horse, she prepared to continue her
journey on foot. But again she was hurled back and could make no
progress. Later, weeping bitterly over her sins, the queen
retired to a convent at Wherwell, where "for many years she
clothed her pampered body in hair-cloth, sleeping at night on
the ground without a pillow, and mortifying her flesh with every
kind of penance".
During the twenty years after the translation of the relics of
St. Edward to Shaftesbury, many miracles were worked through the
intercession of the holy martyr-king.
Thus there was a woman living in a remote part of England, who
had an infirmity of her legs and daily poured forth prayers for
her health. One night St. Edward appeared to her in a dream and
said: "When you rise at dawn, go without delay to the place
where I am buried, for there you will receive new shoes that are
necessary for your infirmity."
Waking early, the woman reported the dream to her neighbor; but
she, disbelieving the vision, declared that it was imagination.
And so the woman disobeyed the command of the saint. But he,
appearing to her a second time, said: "Why do you spurn my
command and so greatly neglect your health? Go then to my tomb
and there you will be delivered." She recovered her strength and
said: "Who are you, lord? Where shall I find your tomb?" He
replied: "I am King Edward, recently killed by an unjust death
and buried at Shaftesbury, in the church of Mary, the blessed
Mother of God." (image of ruins, below) The woman woke early, and thinking over what she
had seen, took was needed for her journey and made her way to
the monastery. There she prayed for some time with humble heart
to God and St. Edward, and was restored to health.
Great miracles continued to be worked at the tomb of the royal
martyr, and in 1001 his brother Ethelred, who had succeeded him
on the throne, granted the town of Bradford-on-Avon "to Christ
and His saint, my brother Edward, whom, covered in his own
blood, the Lord Himself has deigned to magnify by many signs of
At about the same time the tomb in which the saint lay began to
rise from the ground, indicating that he wished his remains to
be raised from the earth.
In confirmation of this he appeared in a vision to a monk and
said: "Go to the convent called by the famous name of
Shaftesbury and take commands to the nun Ethelfreda who is in
charge of the other servants of God there. You will say to her
that I do not wish to remain any longer in the place where I now
lie, and command her on my behalf to report this to my brother
Rising early, and perceiving that the vision he had seen was
from God, the monk quickly made his way to the abbess as he had
been commanded and told her in order all that had been revealed
to him. Then the abbess, giving thanks to God, immediately told
the whole story to King Ethelred, at the same time making known
to him the elevation of the tomb. The king was filled with joy
and would have been present at the elevation if he had been
able. But, being prevented by the invasions of the Danes, he
sent messengers to the holy bishops Wulsin of Sherborne and
Elfsin of Dorchester-on-Thames, as well as to other men of
respected life, instructing them to raise his brother's tomb
from the ground and replace it in a fitting place.
Following the king's command, those men joyfully assembled at
the monastery with a vast crowd of laymen and women. The tomb
was opened with the utmost reverence, and such a wonderful
fragrance issued from it that all present thought that they were
standing amidst the delights of Paradise. Then the holy bishops
drew near, bore away the sacred relics from the tomb, and,
placing them in a casket carefully prepared for this, carried it
in procession to the holy place of the Saints together with
other holy relics. This elevation of the relics of St. Edward
took place on June 20, 1001.
St. Edward was officially glorified by an act of the All-English
Council of 1008, presided over by
St. Alphege, archbishop of
Canterbury (who was martyred by the Danes in 1012).
King Ethelred ordered that the saint's three feast days (March
18, February 13 and June 20) should be celebrated throughout
England. The church in which St. Edward's relics rested was
rededicated to the Mother of God and St. Edward, and that part
of the town was renamed "Edwardstowe" in honor of the saint. The
town kept this name throughout the Middle Ages: only after the
Protestant Reformation was the original name of Shaftesbury
Many miracles continued to be worked at the tomb of St. Edward
Memorial to Edward
the Martyr at
Thus during the reign of his nephew, King Edward the Confessor
(1042- 1066), a man named John living in north-west France,
whose whole body had been so bent by severe pain that his heels
were touching his loins and he was unable to stand upright, was
told in a vision at night to go to England to the monastery at Shaftesbury, where St. Edward lay, as there he would recover his
health. He told this vision to his neighbors and relatives, and
with their help and advice he crossed the English Channel and
after many detours at last reached the monastery. Having prayed
there for some time to God and St. Edward he recovered his
health, and remained as a servant at the monastery for the rest
of his life.
Not long after, a leper came to the tomb of the saint, and after
invoking God's help by prayers and vigils, he received complete
cleansing from his infirmity.
Another man who had been bound in heavy chains for his sins was
suddenly freed from them as he was praying earnestly at the
Again, Bishop Herman of Salisbury was staying at the monastery,
and a poor blind man whom he supported was with him. While the
bishop was delayed, the blind man decided to go and pray at the
tomb, led by a boy who guided his steps. He continued praying
until evening, when the wardens who were looking after the
church asked him to leave. He refused, and said that he would
wait on the mercy of God and St. Edward.
Impressed by his faith, they let him stay, while insisting that
the boy return to his lodgings. After staying at his place for
some time, the blind man was overwhelmed first by extreme cold,
then by extreme heat. And then he recovered his sight. The next
morning, some would not believe the miracle; but when witnesses
came forward who affirmed that he had been blind for a long
time, praise was given to Christ Who works great wonders through
One of the miracles associated with St. Edward was the continual
quivering of his incorrupt lung. It is known that this lung
still quivered in the twelfth century. However, in 1904 an
eleventh-century glass vessel containing "a shrunken nut-like
object" was found beneath a small marble slab in front of the
High Altar. The vase may still be seen in Winchester Cathedral,
but the relic, which was probably St. Edward's lung, was thrown
In 1931 Mr. Wilson-Claridge discovered some bones in a lead
casket in the north transept of Shaftesbury Abbey. Although the
archaeological evidence suggested that these were indeed the
relics of the saint, he decided to seek the advice of a
professional osteologist, Dr. T.E.A. Stowell. He examined the
bones and in a long report published in The Criminologist came
to the conclusion that they were the bones of a young man of
about 20 (the saint was about 17 when he was martyred), that he
was a Saxon and not a Celt, that certain bones were missing (we
know that parts of the relics were removed to Leominster and
Abingdon in 1008), and that certain bones were injured. These
injuries corresponded to a person being dragged backwards over
the pommel of a saddle and having their leg twisted in a
stirrup. From all this evidence Dr. Stowell concluded that these
were indeed the bones of the martyred King Edward.
However, at the time when the holy relics were about to be
transferred to the Russian Church Outside Russia, opposition
suddenly arose. Another (two-page) report on the relics was
commissioned which challenged the findings of Dr. Stowell,
arguing that the bones were of an older man. Then the brother of
Mr. Wilson-Claridge sought a high-court injunction preventing
the Russian Church from receiving the relics. Even some members
of the ROCA supported the brother of Mr. Wilson-Claridge,
claiming that he had a half share right in the relics. The
citizens of Shaftesbury also argued that the relics should stay
One ROCA hierarch, Archbishop Mark of Germany, questioned
whether St. Edward was a true saint because, as he claimed, the
heresy of the Filioque was entrenched in England at the time.
However, a Synodical decision declared in favor of St. Edward,
and the doubting hierarch "agreed with the former decision after
having been acquainted with the historical information compiled
by His Grace, Bishop Gregory, who cited a list of names of
Western saints of the same period who have long been included in
our list of saints (among whom are St. Ludmilla, St. Wenceslaus
of Czechia, and others)."
The present writer has argued that it is far from clear whether
the Filioque was in general use in England at the time of St.
Edward (late tenth century), and that in any case no less
rigorous a theologian than St. Maximus the Confessor had
declared, when the Roman Church first adopted the Filioque, that
she did not in fact understand it in a heretical sense at that
time. Thus the possibility exists of a heresy being accepted at
an early stage out of ignorance, while those who hold it remain
In England, meanwhile, a long legal battle began, during which
the holy relics were kept in a bank vault. At one point the
Attorney General decided that the relics belonged to the Queen
of England. Then he changed his mind, but insisted that the
relics should be kept especially secure - probably because they
were the relics of a king. Finally, on March 18/31, 1995, the
principal feast day of St. Edward, the case against the ROCA was
dismissed and the relics were returned to the Church.
This icon of St. Edward is on the
iconostasis of the St. Edward's Brotherhood
church in Brookwood near Woking in England.
Beneath the icons is shown the
reliquary of St. Edward at Brookwood. This holy
reliquary, carved in an appropriate Insular
style, contains the holy relics of the Martyr,
which were found in the 1930s. The top view
shows the reliquary in its position enshrined in
the monastery church. The next image is a closer
view of the box itself.
Miracles continue to be worked through St. Edward to the present
Thus the English Orthodox Christian "S.P." writes: "I was very
happy to be pregnant again but saddened to learn that I had
caught the rare disease of toxoplasmosis. The doctors advised me
to abort at once: 'Come through to this room,' they said, 'and
it will be over in a few minutes.' As an Orthodox Christian, I
refused to have any truck with this. They promised me, a
malleable (so they thought) young woman of 23, a child with no
legs and no arms. I put my faith in God.
Later, six months pregnant, I returned to the clinic for a scan.
This time the doctors came out with a slightly more reassuring
story: my child, for they could see him now, would have arms and
legs, but he would be born blind.
"It was at this very time that I first came to read the little
brochure, The Recorded Miracles of St. Edward the Martyr. I had
always been attracted by St. Edward's icon and when I read that
his first miracle had been to heal a blind woman, I was
overwhelmed with the thought that my son should be called
Edward. We decided to baptize him so, despite our Archbishop who
refused to recognize the Saint and tried to force my husband
into changing the name.
And when Edward was born, he was not blind, but a good, happy
baby, perfectly normal and so strong and healthy! Imagine our
joy! The doctors were very surprised, and perhaps a little
ashamed of themselves, but they did show me and my husband the
umbilical cord and placenta. It was astonishing, for we could
clearly see how the top half of the cord had been discolored an
ugly black by an infection. The discoloration had stopped
exactly half-way down the cord. I am so thankful to God and St.
Edward. The Lord is truly wonderful in His Saints."
S. McDonnell, an Orthodox Christian from Australia, writes: "On
Great Friday this year I met up with Edward, a Bulgarian friend,
in Jerusalem. He related the following to me while we were at
the Holy Sepulchre."
"As a child, he had not been baptized. Recently he had asked to
receive the sacrament of holy baptism in Jerusalem. The priest,
Fr. Iakovos, agreed but informed Edward that he would have to
change his name because it 'was not Orthodox'. Much saddened,
Edward agreed, but went home with a grief-stricken heart because
he was fond of his name. That night while he slept, a young man
wearing a cloak of purple and a square shaped crown of gold
appeared and said: 'I am Edward, King of the English. You bear
my name. Be baptized.' That was all. (I later found out from Fr.
Niphon of St. Edward's Brotherhood that the Saxon crown was a
"I was surprised and showed my friend Edward a paper icon of St.
Edward that I carry with me. I asked if this was the one.
Shocked, he stammered out yes, noticing particularly that St.
Edward's crown was square and his cloak purple for a King. You
can imagine how shaken I was by this, my mouth was open, I just
couldn't believe it."
Troparion (Tone 4)
Celebrating the newly manifest commemoration of the
holy King Edward,
who shone forth of old in the virtues and suffered
we all bow down before the Icon of his honoured
and in gladness cry out: Truly Thou art wonderful in
Thy Saints, O God!