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St Alphege

 

Saint Alphege, was an Anglo Saxon Bishop of Winchester and later Archbishop of Canterbury and known by the Old English name of Aelfheah. In 954 AD, Alphege was born into a noble Christian family in Weston, Somerset.  In adolescence, he forsook his family and comfortable lifestyle in order to dedicate himself to the monastic life. Having assumed the monastic and communal lifestyle of Deerhurst, he passed on to Bath, where he developed his devotions by following a life of seclusion. The young monk's piety and austerity soon brought him considerable fame, which eventually culminated in the establishment of a community of lay devotees. Saint Dunstan, the primate of Britain's monastic communities, convinced the youth to become the abbot of this newly formed congregation.

In 984, Dunstan pressed Alphege to accept the Bishopric of Winchester, despite his relative youth and lack of experience. Alban Butler in ‘The Lives of Saints’ provides a useful summary of this period:

"In this position his high qualities and exceptional abilities found a wider scope. His liberality to the poor was so great that during the period of his episcopate there were no beggars in the diocese of Winchester. Adhering to the austerity of his monastic days, he became so thin through prolonged fasts that men declared that they could see through his hands when he uplifted them at Mass."

During his tenure as Bishop of Winchester, Alphege also served as an envoy to the marauding Vikings, in which capacity he convinced King Olaf I of Norway to accept Christian Cpnfirmation with British King Aethelred as his godfather. Accepting this new familial bond, the Scandinavian lord agreed to abstain from all hostilities against the British—a promise he kept until his death.

Given his overall popularity and his distinguished reputation, Alphege was an obvious choice for the Archbishopric of Canterbury, a position he assumed in 1006. He fulfilled this role uneventfully for six years, despite intermittent raids from Danish invaders. This relative peace was abruptly shattered in 1011, when a party of hostile Danes ransacked Canterbury and took the Archbishop hostage. Though a captive, Alphege refused to submit to these Vikings, and beseeched his followers to deny their ransom demands. Following a lengthy and unpleasant period of imprisonment, the saint's recalcitrance eventually infuriated his captors, which culminated in his murder on April 19th, 1012.

 The specific details of his death can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a contemporaneous text and believed by some scholars to be the clearest account of this Saint’s life:

‘Then on the Saturday was the army much stirred against the bishop; because he would not promise them any fee, and forbade that any man should give anything for him. They were also much drunken; for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop, and led him to their hustings, (temporary platform) on the eve of the Sunday after Easter, which was the thirteenth before the calends of May; and there they then shamefully killed him. They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God.’

Given his formative role in British Christianity, it is not surprising that many churches are dedicated to the Saint. Some of these include Saint Alphege the Martyr in Canterbury, Saint Alfege's Church, Greenwich, which is thought to mark the spot of the saint's martyrdom, Saint Alphege's Church in Bath, Saint Alphege in Whitstable  and Saint Alphege in Solihull.

Saint Alphege is the patron saint of Solihull, Greenwich and kidnap victims.  His feast day is April 19th, commemorating his death.