Saints of the Day – Ethelbert of East Anglia

stained glass window Saint Ethelbert of East Anglia with the Christ Child, date unknown, artist unknown; Saint Ethelbert's Church, Alby, Norfolk, England; photographed on 7 November 2010 by Amitchelll125; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

Died near Hereford, England, in 793. King Ethelbert had a considerable cultus during the middle ages, although some, such as William of Malmesbury, have misgivings about the continuance of his veneration. He was murdered at Sutton Walls in Herefordshire, apparently for dynastic reasons at the instigation of the wife of Offa of Mercia. His pious vita, written by Giraldus Cambrensis, tells us that Ethelbert was a man of prayer from his childhood. While still very young, he succeeded his father Ethelred as king of East Anglia and ruled benevolently for 44 years. It is said that his usual maxim is that the higher the station of man, the humbler he ought to be. This was the rule for his own conduct.

Desiring to secure stability for his kingdom by an heir, he sought the hand of the virtuous Alfreda, daughter of the powerful King Offa. With this in mind, he visited Offa at Sutton-Wallis, four miles Hereford. He was courteously entertained, but after some days, treacherously murdered by Grimbert, an officer of king Offa, through the contrivance of queen Quendreda who wanted to add his kingdom to their own.

His body was secretly buried at Maurdine of Marden, but miracles revealed its hiding place. Soon it was moved to a church at Fernley (Heath of Fern), now called Hereford. The town grew around the church bearing Ethelbert’s name after King Wilfrid of Mercia enlarged and enriched it.

Quendreda died miserably within three months after her crime. Her daughter Alfreda became a hermit at Croyland. Offa made atonement for the sin of his queen by a pilgrimage to Rome, where he founded a school for the English. Egfrid, the only son of Offa, died after a reign of some months, and the Mercian crown was translated into the family descended of Penda (Attwater, Benedictines).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 June 2020. Web. 28 November 2021. <>