Edmund Rich, Saint
Archbishop of Canterbury, England, b. November 20, 1180, d. Nov. 16, 1240
Edmund Rich, Saint, Archbishop of Canterbury, England, b. November 20, c. 1180, at Abingdon, six mile’s from Oxford; d. November 16, 1240, at Soissy, France. His early chronology is somewhat uncertain. His parents, Reinald (Reginald) and Mabel Rich, were remarkable for piety. It is said that his mother constantly wore hair-cloth, and attended almost every night at Matins in the abbey church. His father, even during the lifetime of his mother, entered the monastery of Eynsham in Oxfordshire. Edmund had two Sisters and at least one brother. The two sisters became nuns at Catesby. From his earliest years he was taught by his mother to practice acts of penance, such as fasting on Saturdays on bread and water, and wearing a hair shirt. When old enough he was sent to study at Oxford. While there, the Child Christ appeared to him while he was walking alone in the fields. In memory of what passed between him and Christ on that occasion, he used every night to sign his forehead with the words “Jesus of Nazareth“, a custom he recommended to others. Anxious to preserve purity of mind and body, Edmund made a vow of chastity, and as a pledge thereof he procured two rings; one he placed on the finger of Our Lady’s statue in St. Mary’s, Oxford, the other he himself wore.
About 1195, in company with his brother Richard, he was sent to the schools of Paris. Thenceforward, for several years, his life was spent between Oxford and Paris. He taught with success in both universities. After having devoted himself to the study of theology, Edmund acquired fame as a preacher, and was commissioned to preach the Sixth Crusade in various parts of England. All this time his austerities were very great. Most of the night he spent in prayer, and the little sleep he allowed himself was taken without lying down. Though thus severe to himself, he was gentle and kind towards others, especially to the poor and sick, whom sometimes he personally attended. In 1222 Edmund became treasurer of Salisbury cathedral. Ten years later he was appointed to the Archbishopric of Canterbury by Gregory IX and consecrated April 2, 1234.
Notwithstanding the gentleness of his disposition, he firmly defended the rights of Church and State against the exactions and usurpations of Henry III. He visited Rome in 1237 to plead his cause in person. This fearless policy brought him into conflict, not only with the king and his party, but also with the monks of Rochester and Canterbury. Determined opposition met him from all sides, and constant appeals were carried to Rome over his head. In consequence, a papal legate was sent to England, but Henry adroitly managed the legate’s authority to nullify Edmund’s power. Unable to force the king to give over the control of vacant benefices, and determined not to countenance evil and injustice, Edmund saw he could not longer remain in England. In 1240 he retired to the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny. Here he lived like a simple religious till the summer heat drove him to Soissy, where he died. Within six years he was canonized by Innocent IV. His body was taken to Pontigny, and numerous miracles have been wrought at his shrine. Notwithstanding the devastation that from time to time has overtaken Pontigny, the body of St. Edmund is still venerated in its abbey church. Important relics of the saint are preserved at Westminster Cathedral; St. Edmund’s College, Ware; Portsmouth Cathedral, and Erdington Abbey. The ancient proper Mass of St. Edmund, taken from the Sarum Missal, is used in the Diocese of Portsmouth, of which St. Edmund is patron. In September, 1874, 350 English pilgrims visited St. Edmund’s shrine. The community, known as Fathers of St. Edmund, were forced to leave their home at Pontigny, by the Associations law. The “Speculum Ecclesiae”, an ascetical treatise, and the “Provincial Constitutions” are the most important of St. Edmund’s writings.