The Legend of St Edmund

Edmund decapitated by his Danish captors had his head thrown into a thicket; it was common for Vikings to behead their valiant captives. They believed that if the head and body were separated,  this would deny that person an opportunity of going to Valhalla, their hall of heroes. What happened next has gone into folklore, as Edmund’s followers came looking for him, they heard cries of “hic, hic, hic” Latin for “here, here, here.” On looking into the thicket they found a wolf, its paws either side of Edmund’s head. Whether just looking after it or considering having ‘tête du Roi‘ for his supper is  unknown!

King Edmunds head is found

This wolf connection to Edmund may possibly confirm his lineage to the Wuffingas, the early rulers of East Anglia. Wuffa, (old English for wolf ) the first king lent his name to this dynasty. According to legend, when Edmund’s head was put to his torso, they miraculously fused together, all that showed was a thin red line where it looked like he had cut himself shaving. This was the first miracle to be associated with Edmund, soon to be the first patron saint of England.

The earliest accounts of Edmund’s death are recorded in the Passio Sancti Eadmundi by Abbo of Fleury (Passio, an eye witness account of a martyr’s suffering) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle many years later. These heavily relied on the first-hand evidence of Edmund’s elderly shield bearer. Edmund was moved to a place called Sutton (Soutern), a key name for those determined to prove where his martyrdom took place. In a makeshift chapel here another miracle was attributed to him when a blind man with a boy sheltered overnight, leaving in the morning with his sight restored.

Not far away was the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Beodericesworth, a royal vill, the future Bury St Edmunds. Around the middle of the 7th century King Sigeberht, a stepson of Raedwald, Wuffinga king of East Anglia, had founded a monastery here with a church made of wooden planks. In 903, Edmund was moved here, in the care of secular monks. The body of Edmund being looked after by a devout woman called Oswin. At his shrine she washed the uncorrupted body, tenderly caring for it even to the extent of trimming his hair and paring his nails, becoming holy relics years later. He was starting to attract pilgrims!

St Edmund and the wolf legend

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