King Alfred and the Cult of St Edmund

Anna Chapman considers what lies behind the cult of an East Anglian king killed by the Vikings in 869.

On February 3rd 1014, witnesses watched as a miracle took place in the town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. They were joined by an imposing but unwelcome visitor: the new king, Swein Forkbeard the Dane, had arrived fresh from conquering England to pillage both the wealthy shrine of St Edmund and the property of his new East Anglian subjects. But before he could begin, a vision of Edmund appeared and began gently to scold the king about his oppression of the English people. A more pious man than Swein might have found the intervention of a long-dead saint disconcerting, but he remained unflustered. Monastic chroniclers refrained from recording the exact nature of his reply to Edmund, but it was clearly not the kind of response that fell easily on the ears of a holy vision. Edmund was furious. The saint stormed up to Swein, raised his arm and struck him a blow of such force that the king was dead within moments.

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