A strong case to reinstate Edmund the Martyr as patron saint of England

St Edmund's Point at Old Hunstanton, with the lighthouse and ruined chapel where there is an information board on St Edmund the Martyr
St Edmund's Point at Old Hunstanton, with the lighthouse and ruined chapel where there is an information board on St Edmund the Martyr

Sedgeford author Gareth Calway says that it should be Edmund the Martyr, who was born on Christmas Day and became King of the Angles, who should have the title rather than St George, and in this article, puts forward the argument:

St Edmund was our first patron saint – until King Edward III replaced him with St George in 1348. Like Richard the Lionheart, who adopted it as his personal symbol during the third crusade (late 12C), Edward preferred George’s red cross to the white dragon of St Edmund.Why was this? Ultimately because Edmund, though a brave soldier, was not the all-conquering Norman type Richard and Edward admired – leaders of a crusading warrior-nation, riding to rule the world.

This is a flashback to 2013 when a petition to reinstate St Edmund as the patron saint of England was championed by Radio Suffolk

This is a flashback to 2013 when a petition to reinstate St Edmund as the patron saint of England was championed by Radio Suffolk

It is not St George’s fault that his flag has been misused in some quarters. Hating other nations is hardly what the soldier-saint had in mind with his blood-red cross on a pure white background.

But it is illogical anyway since St George (whose flag is also sacred to Georgia, Genoa, Sardinia and Barcelona) was a Turk who almost certainly never set foot in England. When extremists raise St George’s standard to defend ‘England their England’, they are using an immigrant flag to do it. Not to mention the symbol of an Eastern faith that preaches ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’

St Edmund the Martyr, born on Christmas Day 841 AD, appears more Christ-like. He became King of the East Angles in AD 855 – the ruined chapel at St Edmund’s Point in Old Hunstanton is said to mark the site where he landed from Germany.

He fought the heathen Norsemen until defeated and captured by the ‘Great Heathen Army’ at the Battle of Hoxne (on the Norfolk-Suffolk border) in AD 870.

Sedgeford author Gareth Calway, known for his plays on King's Lynn religious figures William Sawtrey and Margery Kempe, has now turned his attention to St Edmund the Martyr

Sedgeford author Gareth Calway, known for his plays on King's Lynn religious figures William Sawtrey and Margery Kempe, has now turned his attention to St Edmund the Martyr

On 20 November 870, he was tied to a tree, shot full of arrows and beheaded. The head was used as a football by jeering Danes, in an anything but beautiful game.

Edmund’s army recovered his body then (the legend goes) spent 40 days searching for his head. Lost in a dark wood, they shouted to each other “Where are you?” until the head itself answered “Hic, hic!” (Here! here!)

Edmund’s perfectly preserved head was found at rest between the paws of a grey wolf. On being brought to its body, it miraculously re-attached itself.

Some make a case for St Edmund over St George on the basis of Englishness. That misses a larger point. Born the future king of Angles, in Nuremberg, it is not his birthplace but his shedding blood for Angleland (later ‘England’) on English soil that defines him, just as many of the flying aces defending these shores at the Battle of Britain were Eastern European,

The beach and the familiar cliffs where Edmund landed in 855AD. Photo by Bhas Allan.

The beach and the familiar cliffs where Edmund landed in 855AD. Photo by Bhas Allan.

10 per cent of them Polish.

Though they tortured him to death, Edmund’s refusal to renounce his faith converted his torturers. He thus integrated two enemy peoples, two of the chief blood and culture lines of England, under a common banner.

While I am doubtless swayed by a regional preference for a heritage-boosting first millennium patron saint with Old Hunstanton/ East Anglian connections, it is really this link to the original Christmas message of death-defying reconciliation that makes me wish St Edmund, not crusade-forged St George, was England’s patron saint again.