Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Edmund Rich, date unknown, artist unknown; east wall, east transept, Saint Mary's Church, Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland; photographed on 6 September 2012 by Andreas F. Borchert; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The Kingdom of England, which centuries ago, gave so many Saints of both sexes to the Church and to heaven, was the native country of Saint Edmund. His father’s name was Reynold Rich, his mother’s, Mabilia. Both led a pious life and endeavored to guide their son in the same path. Mabilia, especially, was anxious to inspire her child from his very infancy, with the love of God, abhorrence of sin, and the esteem of angelic purity. She also taught him early to fast on Fridays and to mortify his body in other ways. She afterwards sent him to Paris to study the liberal arts, but instructed him most carefully how to conduct himself, in order that he might not be seduced. As often as she sent him a supply of clothing, she added a hair-shirt, and exhorted him to make use of it sometimes that he might more securely guard his innocence. She also admonished him to avoid evil society, to pray and study, to hear frequently the word of God, and to commend himself to the protection of the Blessed Virgin. Edmund faithfully obeyed his mother’s instructions, and hence, God bestowed especial graces upon him. One day, as he was walking with others, he left them, and began to read a devout book, because they had begun a rather unrestrained conversation. Whilst he was thus engaged, Christ appeared to him in the form of a lovely boy. Edmund was at first awed, as he did not know whence the boy had come, nor who he was; but our Lord said to him: “Edmund, do you not know me? I am daily with you at school; look at my forehead.” Edmund looked up, and saw, on the Child’s brow, the words: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The divine Child then disappeared, but left an indescribable comfort in the heart of Edmund, who from that moment bore the most tender devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ. He also venerated daily the Blessed Virgin, and commended to her his chastity, which he had vowed to keep inviolate. He bought two rings on which the words, “Ave Maria,” were engraved. One of these he placed upon the finger of an image of the Blessed Virgin, the other he wore himself, as a sign that he was united with Mary and had chosen her as his spouse. Whenever he was tempted by an unchaste thought, he looked at the ring, remembered his promise, renewed it, and thus freed himself from the temptation. By the protection of the Blessed Virgin, by prayer and mortification, he preserved his innocence, although he was subjected to many dangers. One day, a wicked woman came into his room and endeavored to tempt him; but the chaste youth not only refused to listen to her, but seizing a scourge, he beat her so unmercifully, that she was glad to beat a hasty retreat.

While he was attending to his studies, at Paris, with great success, his pious mother became very sick and desired to see him. Obeying her call, he returned home to receive her last admonitions, and remained with her until her death, after which, returning to Paris, he completed his course with such distinction, that a professorship was offered to him. He accepted the offer and soon gained the love of his pupils, and the good-will of every one. Those of his pupils who were poor he assisted with alms, the sick he took into his house, and gave them a father’s care; all received wholesome admonitions, and were led by him in the path of piety and virtue. Hence it happened that many of them went into monasteries in order the better to attend to their salvation. After some years, he resigned his professorship, became a priest, and preached the Gospel with great fruit, because he preached not only by word, but also by his works, and by the example of his holy life. God failed not to assist him by many miracles, of which we will relate only one.

One day, when he was preaching to a great number of people in the open air, the heavens were suddenly covered over with heavy black clouds, and the people, fearing that a thunder-storm was approaching, began to leave. The holy man perceived that Satan, by the permission of the Almighty, was the author of this; he commanded the people to remain, and then made the sign of the holy cross in the air, and behold! the clouds parted, and the sun shone brightly on the place occupied by the preacher and his audience, while all around them the ground was drenched with a violent shower.

After the Saint had passed several years in preaching, the See of Canterbury became vacant, and Edmund was forced to fill it. Invested with this high dignity, his conduct was such that it might serve as a most perfect model to all prelates. He sought not his own comfort or honor, but only the glory of God, the welfare of the Church, and the salvation of souls. He visited his whole diocese, preached and taught in all places, administered the holy sacraments, encouraged sinners to repentance, aided the poor and orphans, and never received any present, but employed the greater part of his own income in relieving the distressed. God, however, desired to prove His faithful servant by adversity. The Saint, in accordance with his duty, not only defended the rights and privileges of the Church, but also reproved the vices of both common people and persons of the highest social position, with undaunted courage. For this he fell into disgrace with the king, and was slandered and persecuted in various ways. Edmund bore it all with the greatest patience, encouraged himself to endurance, and said to those who pitied him: “The wrongs that I suffer are bitter but wholesome medicine; they tend to the salvation of my soul.” He never showed the slightest resentment against his enemies, but, loving them with his whole heart, he said: “Were they to tear out my eyes, I would still love them.” But seeing that he could no longer administer his functions in a manner befitting his dignity, he left England and went to France. During the night preceding his embarkation, Edmund was visited, in a vision, by Saint Thomas, who had occupied the same episcopal chair and who had sacrificed his life in defence of the rights of the Church. He consoled the Saint, and assured him of a speedy reward for his labor. Arrived in France, Saint Edmund took refuge in the same monastery in which Saint Thomas, for the same cause, had sought an asylum. But soon after his arrival, he was visited by a malady, for the cure of which the physicians advised him to go to another abbey for a change of air. The religious, who had just welcomed him, were very sad to part with him so soon; but the holy bishop told them, that he would return on the festival of the King and Martyr, Saint Edmund. And this really happened, but not in the manner which the religious expected; for, no sooner had the bishop entered the other monastery, than his sickness increased to such a degree, that he himself desired to receive the last Sacraments. When the Blessed Eucharist was brought into his room, the Saint, stretching out both arms towards the same, exclaimed in a clear voice: “Thou art witness, O my Lord, that I have never sought anything else in this world, but Thee alone! do now with me according to Thy holy will.” Having received the Holy Sacraments, he tenderly embraced the Crucifix, and bedewed it with many tears; kissing the holy wounds and pressing the sacred image to his heart, he said: “You will now soon joyfully draw water from the fountains of the Saviour.” The remaining time he passed in pious contemplations, and, finally, ended his holy life by the precious death of a Saint, in the year of our Lord, 1241. His holy remains were brought, on the festival of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr, to the monastery to which he had gone, when first he arrived in France, and thus his prophecy was fulfilled. He was buried with great honors and God made his tomb glorious by many miracles.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Edmund was exhorted by his mother, to shun all bad company; and, to his own great benefit, he obeyed her. Hence, one day, when he left such companions, he had the happiness of seeing the Lord in human form and of speaking to Him. Not only in youth, but in riper years too, all who would save their souls must shun dangerous company, and not be on friendly terms with those who speak indecently or lead a godless life; for, the evil that proceeds from such association can hardly be estimated. How many virtuous persons have been misled by wicked companions and have been slowly ruined by them! “For, such is human nature,” says Saint Chrysostom, “that when a pious person associates with a wicked one, the latter is not reformed by the former, but the pious is corrupted by the wicked,” Saint Bernard hesitates not to say, that the devil, by the aid of such company, works much evil which by himself he cannot. The experience of every day convinces us of the truth of this assertion. Many who had overcome all the temptations of Satan, have fallen into sin through the promises, flatteries and incitements of one bad friend, and have thus been precipitated into the depth of hell. If you desire to live piously, shun bad people more than Satan himself.

• Through the protection of the Blessed Virgin, through prayer and penance, Saint Edmund preserved his chastity and innocence. The same we read in the lives of many other Saints. Make use of these means if you wish to live chaste and pure. “Oh! all you who desire to live in virginal chas- tity,” says Saint Chrysostom, “fly for refuge to the divine Mother, for she will preserve inviolate the beautiful, precious and immortal treasure.” Thus also the holy Fathers admonish us to pray and to mortify our body; otherwise no one can long preserve his innocence. If you, however, have lost this precious treasure, by one or more mortal sins, then you must know that penance is the only remedy left to you. The above mentioned means may, however, serve to prevent you from falling into sin again. Endeavor to obtain the powerful protection of Mary; pray fervently and frequently; be not too lenient to your body, but chastise it by works of penance. Should you after all, either out of weakness or wickedness, commit a mortal sin, I exhort you not to remain long in it, but cleanse yourself, as soon as possible, by a contrite confession. If you defer, the sin takes deep root or draws other sins after it. “Therefore,” says Saint Chrysostom, “if your soul is dead in sin, endeavor to raise it immediately to a new life.” In conclusion, consider the beautiful words of Saint Edmund: “The wrongs which I suffer are a bitter but a wholesome medicine; they conduce to the salvation of my soul.” Just so should you think of all your trials and persecutions. They are bitter, but serve to secure your salvation if you endeavor to suffer them in the same spirit as Saint Edmund did. Follow his example in this, as in all other points, that you may hope for a death as bright and happy as his. “Thou art my witness, O Lord! that I have sought nothing but Thee.” Thus spoke the Saint on his death-bed. Whoever can say this, will surely die cheerfully and happily.

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Edmund, Archbishop of Canterbury”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 May 2018. Web. 24 February 2020. <>