A Saint Who Was A King – Saint Edward of England

Saint Edward the Confessor, a detail from 'Richard II of England with his patron saints' from the Wilton Diptych, 1395, tempera on oak panel, National Gallery, London, EnglandSaint Edward was born almost at the beginning of a new century, in the year 1003. But although he lived so long ago, he is still remembered as one of the best kings that England has ever had, and many of the wise laws he made have remained to the present day. He was called Edward the Peacemaker, and if ever the world needed a true peacemaker, it needs one today. What, then, can this saint and hero teach us?

When Edward was a little boy, England was in a state of war and unrest, and the Danish King, Canute, who ruled the country at that time, sent Edward and his brother Alfred, the rightful heirs to the throne, to Normandy, in France. Edward grew up in Normandy, leading a quiet and peaceful life. He was very fond of sport, particularly hunting and hawking, but at the same time, he liked to spend much of his time at prayer, alone with God. Once during his prayer he made a vow, a very solemn promise, to make a pilgrimage to Saint Peter’s tomb in Rome if it should be God’s Will to restore him to the English throne.

In the year 1042, the people of England sent to Edward to ask him to be their King. He agreed to this, although he knew it would be no easy task to rule a country that had been torn by many wars and unjust laws. He said to one of his friends: “I would not accept the greatest of monarchies if it were to cost the blood of a single man.”

Edward came back to England, and was crowned King on Easter Sunday, 1042. He was now forty, very handsome to look at, and very gentle in manner. Many people thought he would be too easygoing, and after a few years, another Danish king, Magnus, declared he would like to be King of England, and prepared to send Edward away again.

King Edward very firmly replied: “I sit on the throne as the descendant of the English monarchs, and I have been called to it by the free choice of the English people. Let Magnus come! I will raise no army against him, but he will never mount the throne of England until he has taken the life of Edward.”

The people were delighted with such an answer, and England entered upon a period of peace and prosperity such as it had not known for a long time. King Edward was kind and charitable to his people, particularly the poor. He freed them from an unjust tax they had paid to the Danes, and no further taxes were imposed upon them. Someone has written this great praise about him: “Those in trouble were not afraid to ask his help. He always welcomed those who came to see him,” It is not always easy to be able to welcome visitors, but Edward managed to do it.

The King now remembered his vow to go to Rome, but the people were so afraid that if he left the country the peace of the land might be broken again, that they begged him not to go. Edward pointed out that he must keep his vow, but he was moved by the fear of his people and wrote to the Pope to ask him what he should do.

The Pope understood how matters were in England. He freed King Edward from his vow and told him instead to give to the poor anything that he had collected for his journey, and also to build a church dedicated to Saint Peter to make up for the wonderful Saint Peter’s in Rome that he was never to see.

There is one thing about the saints – they always obey.

Edward immediately set about putting aside money for the church he was to build, and finally it was completed. It is known today as Westminster Abbey, and it was here that, later on, the King was to be buried.

In the year 1065, Edward went to London to be present at the beautiful ceremony of the Dedication of the church he had built. But, as so often happens, he was not to witness the crowning glory to his work. On Christmas Eve, he became very ill, yet he practised his usual self-control by appearing as cheerful as ever and carrying on with his ordinary duties. He asked his wife, Queen Edith, to see to the proper decoration of the church for the Consecration ceremony, but despite all his efforts, Edward was too ill to be present himself on the great day. His work for God and his people was almost over, and on January 5th, 1066, he died. His feast is not kept on this day, but on October 13th, the day when Saint Thomas a’Becket removed Saint Edward’s body from its first burial place to the shrine in the Abbey where it still rests.

There are several lessons that we can learn from the life of Saint Edward, but perhaps two stand out above the rest. The first is his great love for peace, a peace that he always had within his own soul, and that he also won for his country. No wars, no arguments, no conferences were used to obtain this peace; his every-day good example and peaceful living among his own people were the weapons of victory.

The second lesson is his faithful fulfilling of God’s Will. King Edward knew that to be a saint he must do God’s Will, and for him this Will of God consisted in trying to do at all times what he knew to be right for his country, his people and himself.

Saint Edward, the Peacemaker, who always tried to do God’s Will, is a wonderful hero and patron for any boy.

– from the pamphlet Hero Stories especially for Boys. (Girls too!), by Eileen Taylor, Australian Catholic Truth Society, #1258, 1957