St Edward The Confessor

A Short History

St. Edward, the Patron Saint of the parish, was also known as the Peacemaker. He was born in 1003, and reigned as King of this country from 1042 until 1066. He married the daughter of Earl Godwin, though there was no friendship between the two men, as the King was of Norman origin whilst Godwin was a Saxon.

St Edward the confessorDespite these internal squabbles, the reign was free from war either by Edward’s personal passive nature, or, it was his good fortune that no other country was at logger-heads with this country. Edward was deeply preoccupied with religious matters, in his private life and his good works, one of which was to build the great Benedictine Abbey, St. Peter’s at Westminster, consecrated in 1065, but Edward died the following year before he had much time to enjoy the extraordinary foundation.

His body was translated into the Abbey within a special shrine behind the High Altar. He was Canonised in 1161.

Edward’s unofficial title of Peacemaker remained with him, and for a long time after, and he was declared the Patron Saint of England. Around the year 1347 he was ‘demoted’ in favour of St. George, as it was felt, in those war-full days, that he was hardly a good example to hold before men being recruited to join the army.

At the period of the Reformation, St. Edward’s shrine was despoiled, but now it has been restored with love, and has become once again a place of pilgrimage by Catholics and Anglicans.

His feast day on 13th October commemorates his translation to the Abbey.

The Legend

The legend as told by Amy Steedman is that “The King’s life was drawing to a close just as the great abbey at Westminster was completed, and Edward knew that this was so. It was said that as the King was on his way to the dedication of a chapel to St. John, he was met by a beggar who asked alms of him. `I pray thee help me, for the love of St. John,’ cried the beggar. Now the King could not refuse such a request, for he loved St. John greatly. But he had no money with him and Hugolin, his Steward. was not at hand, so he drew off from his finger a large ring, royal and beautiful, and gave it with a kindly smile to the poor beggar.

Not very long afterwards, the legend tells us, two English pilgrims far away in Syria lost their way, and wandered about in darkness and amidst great dangers, not knowing which road led to safety. They were almost in despair, when suddenly a light shone across their path, and in the light they saw an old man with bowed white head and a face of wonderful beauty. ‘Whence do ye come?’ asked the old man, ‘and what is the name of your country and your King?’ ‘We are pilgrims from England,’ replied the wanderers, ‘and our King is the saintly Edward, whom men call the Confessor.’ Then the old man smiled joyously, and led them on their way until they came to an inn. ‘Know ye who I am?’ he asked. ‘I am St. John, the friend of Edward your King. This ring which he gave for love of me, ye shall bear back to him, and tell him that in six months we shall meet together in Paradise.’

So the pilgrims took the ring and carried it safely over land and sea until they reached the King’s palace, when they gave it back into the royal hand and delivered the message from St. John. For a few days he lingered on, and then from the land of dreams he passed to the great Reality, and the old chronicles add the comforting words: ‘St. Peter, his friend, opened the gate of Paradise, and St. John, his own dear one, led him before the Divine Majesty.’

In the Church there is a magnificent wood carving by Siegfrid Pietsch of Redbourne, Hertfordshire showing St Edward giving his ring to a beggar who asked for alms. The shrine was dedicated in 1996.

A Short History – written by the late Rev Graham Jenkins, former deacon in the parish The Legend – extract from Amy Steedman.

The arms attributed to Edward the Confessor (shown at the top of the page) originated in the silver coins of his reign, which bore a cross between four doves: symbols of piety and gentleness. The arms assigned to the Confessor were Azure (blue) a Cross Flory between five gold Doves. References to these may be found in the heraldry of Westminster Abbey, Westminster School, the City of Westminster and old Westminster Hospital.