St Edmund of East Anglia and his miracles: variations in literature and art
Ilaria Fornasini, (University of Verona, Italy)
Quest, Issue 6, Spring (2009)
Less than two years ago, at the end of 2006, St Edmund was a news item in the English local and national media. BBC Radio Suffolk and The East Anglian Daily Times led an intensive campaign for St Edmund to be reinstated as England’s patron saint, instead of St George. They even took a petition to 10 Downing Street and the House of Commons. The British government later refused to relieve St George of his title, but Suffolk County Council officially adopted St Edmund as the patron saint of Suffolk. Despite this lack of success, the action was attempted in order to restore Edmund’s position before the Norman Conquest, following introduction of a foreign patron saint for England – St George – who gradually overcame local patron saints (such as St Germaine, St Botolph, St Walstan, St Felix, St Aethelbert and St Fursa) in prestige, albeit not in support.
St Edmund was an Anglo-Saxon Christian king who ruled the realm of East Anglia between 855 and 869 AD. The earliest sources about him date back to the end of the ninth century, for example, a passage in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle describing his death and the so-called St Edmund Memorial Coinage (circa 885-915 AD). These sources testify to the king’s early reputation as a saint man. From that moment onwards, truth and legend begin to intermingle. Abbo of Fleury in his ‘Life of St Edmund’ (985 AD) states that Edmund was ex antiquorum Saxonum nobili prosapia oriundus, which seems to link the saint with a continental Old Saxon origin. However, the earliest and most reliable accounts present him as descending from the preceding line of Wuffing kings of East Anglia. Nevertheless, the legend of his continental origin was later expanded, adding particulars about Edmund’s parents (the otherwise unknown Alcmund and Siware), his birth at Nuremberg, his adoption and succession to King Æthelweard of East Anglia, and his journey to England to claim his kingdom.