the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet
Edmund: Patron Saint of England ?
St Edmund, Original
Patron Saint of England
by Ellen Castelow
November 20th is Saint Edmund's Day.
It is commonly accepted that St George is the Patron Saint of England.
We celebrate St George's Day on April 23rd when the red cross of St George
flies proudly from the flag pole. But should we instead be raising the
White Dragon flag on November 20th?
It is surprising to learn that St George was not the first patron saint
of England. That honour was originally held by St Edmund or Edmund the
Martyr, King of East Anglia in the 9th century AD.
Born on Christmas Day 841 AD, Edmund succeeded to the throne of East
Anglia in 856. A Christian from birth, he fought alongside King Alfred
of Wessex against the pagan Viking and Norse invaders (the Great Heathen
Army) until 869/70 when his forces were defeated and Edmund was captured
by the Vikings. He was ordered to renounce his faith and share power
with the pagan Vikings, but he refused.
According to the 10th century account of the saint's life by Abbo of
Fleury, who quotes St Dunstan as his source, Edmund was then bound to
a tree, shot through by arrows and beheaded.
It is uncertain where he was killed; some accounts state Bradfield St
Clare near Bury St Edmunds, others Maldon in Essex or Hoxne in Suffolk.
What is known is that in 902 his remains were moved to Bedricsworth
(modern Bury St. Edmunds) where King Athelstan founded a religious community
to care for his shrine which became a place of national pilgrimage.
King Canute built a stone abbey on the site in 1020 to house the shrine.
For centuries Edmund's resting place was patronised by the Kings of
England and the abbey became increasingly wealthy as the cult of St
St Edmund's influence began to fade when, during the Third Crusade in
1199, King Richard I visited the tomb of St. George in Lydda on the
eve of battle. The next day he won a great victory. Following this triumph,
Richard adopted St. George as his personal patron and protector of the
Although the banner of St. Edmund was still carried into battle by the
English army, by the time of Edward I it had been joined by the flag
of St. George.
In 1348, Edward III founded a new order of chivalry, the Knights of
the Garter. Edward made St George the patron of the Order and also declared
him Patron Saint of England.
What became of Edmund?
But St Edmund has not been forgotten.
An attempt was made in 2006 to have St Edmund reinstated as patron saint
of England. A petition was handed into Parliament but it was rejected
by the government.
In 2013 another campaign was launched to reinstate St Edmund as patron
saint. This was the 'St Edmund for England' e-petition, backed by the
Bury St Edmunds based brewery, Greene King.
This tongue-in-cheek yet serious campaign questioned whether St George,
patron saint of 16 other countries, ever even visited England.
It suggested he should be replaced by an Englishman, and who better than
the Anglo-Saxon martyr-king St Edmund.
Author: Ellen Castelow
Published Jan 2018