Saints of the Day – Edmund Rich

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

(also known as Edmund or Edme of Abingdon)

Born in Abingdon, Berkshire, England, on November 30, c.1170-1180; died near Pontigny c.1242; canonized 1246 or 1247 (no one agrees exactly on any of these dates).

Born into a prosperous family, Edmund Rich studied at Oxford and Paris. He taught art and mathematics at Oxford, received his doctorate in theology, and was ordained. He taught theology for eight years and about 1222 became canon and treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral.

He was an eloquent and popular preacher, preached a crusade against the Saracens at the request of Pope Gregory IX in 1227, was elected archbishop of Canterbury in 1233 (after Pope Gregory rejected three other candidates), and was consecrated in 1234 against his wishes. He was an adviser to King Henry III, undertook several diplomatic missions for the king during his seven-year episcopate, and in 1237 presided at Henry’s ratification of the Great Charter.

Edmund was reputed to be a man of very virtuous life who experienced heavenly visitations. Saint Gregory was essentially a preacher and teacher, a man of study and prayer.

To lighten the burden of public affairs with which he reluctantly, but resolutely, had to deal, he chose as his chancellor Master Richard of Wich, known to later ages as Saint Richard of Chicester.

Immediately after his consecration Saint Edmund was successful in averting civil war in the Welsh marshes, and he brought about a reorganization of the government. His uncompromising stand in favor of good discipline, monastic observance, and justice in high quarters soon brought him into conflict with King Henry III over discrepancies between church law and the English common law, with several monasteries, and with his own chapter.

Edmund protested Henry’s action in securing the appointment of a papal legate, Cardinal Otto, to England as an infringement of his episcopal rights. A rebellion by the monks of Christ Church at Canterbury, supported by Henry, to eliminate his rights there caused him to go to Rome in 1237, and on his return he excommunicated 17 of the monks – an action that was opposed by his suffragans, Henry, and Cardinal Otto who lifted the excommunications.

Edmund then became involved in a dispute with Otto over the king’s practice of leaving benefices unoccupied so the crown could collect their revenues. When Rome withdrew the archbishop’s authority to fill benefices left vacant for six months, he left England in 1240 and retired to the Cistercian abbey at Pontigny. He died at Soissons, France, on Nov. 16 and was canonized in 1247 by Pope Innocent IV.

Saint Edmund was a learned and holy man, and a good if not great bishop. On his deathbed he called God to witness, ‘I have sought nothing else but you.’ He was buried in the abbey church at Pontigny, where his body still lies; locally there he is called Saint Edme.

Very little of his writing has survived, but his Mirror of Holy Church makes it clear that he is entitled to an honorable place among the English medieval mystics. In this treatise he sets out at various levels the contemplative’s way to God.

The only surviving medieval hall at Oxford, Saint Edmund’s, is named in his honor, and according to tradition it was built on the site of his tomb (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Lawrence).

Saint Edmund is portrayed in art as an archbishop making a vow before a statue of the Blessed Virgin as the Christ-Child appears to him. Sometimes Saint Thomas of Canterbury appears to him (Roeder).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 August 2020. Web. 29 November 2020. <>