Several Saints have a special relationship with the historic County of Essex, in fact there are at least 22 Essex saints and they have all been especially revered in this county over many centuries. Those "local" saints are in addition to the hundreds of other saints from all around the world who are revered in Essex at different times of the year and for particular reasons, relationships and professions.
Christianity in Britain all started with the Romans who had been in Britain since 43 AD, only 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. From those early years, there would have been Christians in Britain who would have experienced prejudice and perhaps prohibition and violence and many would have fulfilled their faith in secret.
Essex has been a distinct entity for much more than 2000 years, long before the Romans came. Then, it was the Kingdom of the Trinovantes which had built an impressive city, kingdom and society and thus they ruled from the only city in the British Isles, Camulodunum now called Colchester. Camulodunum is the most likely location for the fabled Camelot. The kingdom and tribe of Trinovantes neighboured the Iceni to the north in part of Suffolk and Norfolk and the Cantii to the south in Kent. But it was to Trinovantes (Essex) that Emperor Julius Caesar came to Britain twice to visit in 55 BC and 54 BC. On his first visit, he came to Trinovantes (now Essex) to negotiate with Imanuentius who was the leading king in Britannia - in Trinovantes, the most powerful tribe in all of Britain. On his second visit he came to meet Mandubracius the new king of Trinovantes. The Romans came again 98 years later, and it was to Trinovantes (then a much larger kingdom) that Emperor Claudius Caesar came to visit, to meet the then king of Trinovantes, Cunobelinus (Cymbeline). Claudius came to take over and occupy Britain and rule it from Camulodunum, the Trinovantian capital, now called Colchester which became their Roman capital and where they established the first Colonia in Britannia in 43 AD.
The Romans left Britain in the early to mid 400s AD. The Roman Britons continued to live here and to rule and defend themselves for over 100 years without the protection of the Roman Army. But, by the mid to late 500s AD, the Saxons, Angles and Jutes had come and had taken and divided the entire country of Britannia except the Celtish kingdoms of Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria. During this time, one prominent germanic group took control of what is now mostly the county of Essex which became the Kingdom of The East Saxons and which included present day Essex, London, most of Hertfordshire and parts of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. The East Saxons were neighbours to many other invader kingdoms, they were :
The Kingdom of The East Angles in Suffolk, Norfolk and part of Cambridgeshire,
The Jutes of Kent,
The Jutes and South Saxons south of the Thames in Sussex, Surrey and South London, opposite Essex in London,
The Mercians who were Saxons who ruled beyond Watford as far west as Wales.
Christianity in Britain and Essex would have started to grow on a small scale in the late 200s and early 300s AD due to the work and influence of Saint Helen of Colchester. But then, it expanded rapidly after Helen's son, a general and governor of the Roman Empire who became Caesar - Emperor of the Roman Empire. He was a christian like his mother and as a result, he permitted and encouraged the worship of God and later, when he became Caesar, he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. So, from the earliest times after Christianity came to The British Isles, Roman christians lived in Essex - the location of Camulotunum (now called Colchester) the Roman capital of Britannia. In addition to the Roman capital in Colchester, there were many other important Roman cities and towns in Trinovantes, now called Essex, they were : Londinium (London), Caesaromagus (Chelmsford), Durolitum (near Brentwood and Ongar). Othona (Bradwell), Canonium (Kelvedon), Billericay, Braintree, Chigwell, Gestingthorpe, Gosbecks, Great Chesterford, Great Dunmow, Great Wakering, Halstead, Harlow, Heybridge (Maldon), Stratford, Wickford and Wixoe. Over time, many more christians came to Essex to teach the word of God and after periods of paganism in some areas, they came to bring back Christianity again to them.
The principal places in Essex County associated with those local saints include Colchester, Othona at Bradwell, Barking, St Osyth, Greensted, Brentwood and Ingatestone and many other smaller hamlets with saintly connections such as Tilbury, Hullbridge and Fambridge. Those saints with special connections to Essex are given below.
Saint Helen (or Helena of Constantinople) was born in Colchester in about 250 AD. She was a Roman citizen of noble birth, said to be the daughter of King Coel (or King Cole) a local British king ruling within Roman Britannia. Helen was the mother of General and later Governor Constantine who became the Roman Emperor Constantine and later Saint Constantine.
Saint Helen led a pious life and she made a pilgrimage to The Holy Land, an adventure unusual for anyone, let alone a woman in those days. She is credited with finding Christ's Cross at Mount Calvary and for building the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the ground where Christ died.
Helen died in about 330 AD and she has always inspired Christians since she was alive and still today because of what she achieved. Because it is said that Helen came from the Roman city of Camulodunum (Colchester), this is probably the reason why Helen has long been the patron saint of Colchester City and of Archaeologists.
There is a Saint Helen's Church in Colchester which is no bigger than a small chapel. It is a charming historic building built in the Roman style. It is believed to have been first built in about 330 AD. It stands on the corner of Maidenburgh Street and Saint Helen's Lane near Colchester Castle which was the Temple in Roman times. For many years, Saint Helen's Church has been the Greek Orthodox Church.
Saint Helen’s feast day is : 18th August,
or 21st May in the Orthodox Church).
Saint Constantine was a Roman citizen born on 27th February 272 AD. Some sources say he was born in Colchester, others say he was born in Nis, Serbia, but he lived and served much of his life in Britain in Colchester and York.
Constantine was a Roman Army General and later Governor of Britannia. Constantine was then elected and appointed to be the Roman Emperor Constantine and later he became Saint Constantine. He was the son of Saint Helen and Constantius, the Roman governor of Britannia. Constantine became the Emperor of Rome on 25th July 306 AD while he was serving Rome and the Roman Army in Britain at York.
Constantine always followed his mother's Christian faith and he became the first Christian Emperor of Rome. His “Edict of Milan” in 313 AD put an end to the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and made the Christian Faith legal and permissable throughout the Roman Empire.
The painting by Rubens of Constantine being appointed as the ruling successor by his father Constantius, the Governor of Britannia portrays Constantine with a cross and the intervention of an angel which suggests that Constantine would promote the spread of the Christian faith in the way that Helen a devout Christian and wife of Constantius and mother of Constatntine would wish.
Constantine died on 22nd May 337 AD.
Saint Constantine’s feast day is : 3rd September;
And he shares : 21st May with his mother.
Saint Mellitus was a Roman who became the first Bishop of London from 604 to 618 AD during the late Augustine era. He is said to have come to England in 591 AD as a monk with Augustine, a Benedictine priest from what we now call Italy, then Rome. They were both sent to England by Pope Gregory the Great to preach the Gospel and to help spread the belief in God. Therefore Mellitus was always following in the footsteps of Archbishop Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury and later followed Bishop Laurentius who became the second Archbishop.
In 604 AD while Mellitus was bishop of London, he started to build the first church dedicated to Saint Paul, the first of at least 5, or 6 if the temple is included. It was built on the hilltop called Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, on the site of the Roman Temple or beside that Roman Temple to the god Diana in the City of London, within the city walls in the same place where the present Saint Paul's Cathedral is now located.
London was then the capital of Essex - The Kingdom of East Saxons, but only 180 years earlier, London had been a thriving Roman city.
While he was Bishop of London or perhaps earlier, Mellitus would have often dealt with and met Archbishop Augustine, the Roman priest who came to Britain and only became archbishop in 597 and served in Canterbury until 604 AD when some say he died, but some say he may have died in 609 AD.
In 618 or 619 AD, Mellitus became the third Archbishop of Canterbury after Laurentius another Roman priest. During Mellitus' time as Archbishop of Canterbury or possibly while still the Bishop of London and acting as assistant perhaps to Saint Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury or more likely to his successor Laurentius the second Archbishop of Canterbury, Mellitus would have officiated at the funeral of King Saeberht the East Saxon (Essex) King who died in 616 AD. Saeberht was the first Saxon king to convert to Christianity. He was buried in Pritlewell in Essex overlooking the Priory and his grave mound now located beside the railway was excavated in 2003 revealing a multitude of valuable objects suitable for the grave of a king, including golden Roman crosses possibly brought from Rome by Mellitus and other valuable jewellery and instruments.
In 616 AD, while still Bishop of London, the death of the Christian King Saeberht led the king's successors to rebel against Christianity and to attack Bishop Mellitus, but Mellitus was able to escape the attack and capture and possibly escaped attempts to murder him.
Mellitus remained as Archbishop of Canterbury until his death on 24th April 624 AD after which, he was made a saint. A shrine was built for Mellitus in Saint Paul's Cathedral and it became a popular place of pilgrimage. A few churches and church buildings are named after him.
Saint Mellitus’ feast day is : 24th April.
Saint Cedd was was born in about 620 AD. He became a priest and a missionary who landed at Bradwell on Sea in Essex and soon built Saint Peter’s Chapel at the Roman Fort of Othona, nearby in 643 AD, the Romans had only left 200 years earlier. Saint Cedd was sent by King Oswy of the Northumbrians following the request by King Sigeberht, the Christian king of the East Saxons. Cedd's mission would be to convert the East Saxon people to Christianity and by doing that, he would continue the good missionary work started by Saint Mellitus.
Cedd became Bishop of the East Saxons, and so to carry out this task, initially he administered his Essex diocese from Ythancestir (Othona Castle or Fort) near Bradwell on Sea, the Roman fort of Othona.
He became the Bishop of London because London was then and would remain for more than 350 years more the East Saxon capital and it was there that starting in 658 AD, Cedd rebuilt the church to become Saint Paul’s Cathedral on the site of the old Saint Paul's Church which Bishop Mellitus built on the ruined Roman Temple. That was a small church built earlier by Bishop Mellitus but not large enough for growing congregations and so, Cedd's church was perhaps the first Cathedral.
Sadly as the years passed, Bishop Cedd contracted, suffered from and died of Yellow Fever and this sad event caused many of his East Saxon converts to believe that the yellow fever and his early death was a sign that the old pagan gods were offended by their conversion to Christianity so, some people reverted to paganism.
Saint Cedd died on 26th October 664 AD while he was Bishop of London.
Throughout history and even now, the Church of England in Essex has a Bishop of Bradwell and the Catholic Church appoints the Bishop of Bradwell to administer over much of Essex.
Saint Cedd is the patron saint of the English County of Essex.
Saint Cedd’s feast day is : 26th October.
Saint Sigeberht was King Sigeberht II who was also known as Sigeberht the Good or Sigeberht the Blessed. He was King of the East Saxons, a Saxon kingdom now called Essex. He ruled his kingdom from 653 to 660 AD. He succeeded to the throne on the death of his father Sigeberht I, known as Sigeberht the Little. Then later, Sigeberht II was suceeded on the throne by Swithelm, one of his treacherous brothers who murdered him.
During Sigeberht I's reign as King of The East Saxons, Cedd was sent to Essex as a missionary at the king’s request to convert the East Saxon people to Christianity. Saint Cedd was consecrated as The Bishop of Essex and he established monasteries at Tilaburg, now Tilbury and at Ythancestir, which is the Roman Othona Fort near Bradwell on Sea in Essex. Sigeberht II was murdered by his younger brothers Swithelm and Swithfrith, who envied his throne and power as king and they accused him of being too friendly towards Christians and to the Bishop Cedd. Sigeberht was a pious christian and a devout follower of Saint Cedd.
Sigeberht was murdered for his faith by Swithelm and Swithfrith in 660 AD and as a result, Sigeberht was later made a saint - Saint Sigeberht and he was much respected by the people of Essex and in other lands.
Saint Botolph of Thorney (correctly Botulf, earlier called Botwulf) was born about 615 AD at Saint Fursey's monastery at Burgh Castle in the north of Suffolk.
During his early life as a priest, Botolph travelled widely throughout England and abroad. He spent much time in Lincolnshire at Boston which is named after him. He came back to East Anglia in 654 and built a monastery at Iken near Aldeburgh in Suffolk.
Botolph used the extensive river networks in East Anglia and sailed along the rivers to do missionary work all over East Anglia, in Suffolk, in Essex and even in Kent. He is famed as a holy man of learning, Botolph was renowned throughout England and abroad and he received the visits of many monks from far and wide.
Botolph is the patron saint of travellers, farmers and traders. Symbols associated with Saint Botolph are dogs and wolves.
Botolph, died on 17 June 680 AD and he was at once revered as a saint all over East Anglia including in Essex and soon all over England. Sixty-four churches are dedicated to him, mostly in Essex and East Anglia and others in parts of England where he travelled as a missionary. A Saxon church was built in Colchester in the 600s either by Botulph or in his name. By 1100, the enormous Augustinian Saint Botulph's Priory was built in Colchester on the site of that Saxon church, dedicated to Saint Botulph and to Saint Catherine of Alexandria who is the patron saint of Europe.
The four Gates of the City of London at Aldersgate, Aldgate, Billingsgate and Bishopsgate had chapels beside them which were dedicated to Saint Botolph. Three of those churches still stand, but Billingsgate chapel was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and it was not rebuilt. The cities of Boston in Lincolnshire and Boston in Massachusetts, USA are named after him. Botolph’s fame spread abroad, especially in Holland, Germany and Denmark and even as far away as Kiev in Russia and later in the USA.
He died in 680 AD and he was buried at Icanho now called Iken in Suffolk and he was made a saint in either the 700s or early 800s AD. But when the Danish Vikings invaded East England in 870 AD, they killed many and destroyed his monastery and farms in East England. The King had him exhumed from his grave at Iken and his body was taken to be reburied in London, then the capital of the Kingdom of the East Saxons - Essex. Parts of his body were spread around many places of worship, his head to Ely Abbey, his torso to Thorney Abbey in the Fens, most of the rest came to Essex with the largest remains going to Westminster Abbey and the smaller remains to each of the four chapels at the gates in the City of London, all part of Essex.
Botolph died on 17th June 680 AD while at his monastery at Iken in Suffolk.
Saint Botolph’s feast day is : 17th June in England and 25th June in Scotland.
Saint Ethelburgh also spelt Æthelburg or Ethelburga, was the sister of Bishop Erkenwald (Eorcenwald) the Bishop of London. Bishop Erkenwald appointed Ethelburgh in 661 AD as the county’s first Abbess at the nunnery at Barking Abbey.
Ethelburgh was known as Ethelburga the Virgin and she led an austere life at Barking Abbey and she obtained veneration after her death. She was buried inside Barking Abbey.
Ethelburgh died in 687 AD and was soon named a saint.
There is a beautiful, tiny church of Ethelburga the Virgin in Bishopsgate, London. This church was partly damaged by German Nazi bombers during World War II, but it was repaired by 1953. But then on 24 August 1993, it was badly destroyed by an IRA terrorist bomb which exploded nearby, less than 25 feet (7 metres) from the church. It was so badly damaged that it was about to be demolished and cleared, but thankfully, it was decided to save it and it was rebuilt in its original beautiful style and re-opened in November 2002. The church is now the "Centre for Reconciliation and Peace". Every year, many people walk the 10km between St Ethelburga's and Barking Abbey for "The Ethelburga Walk".
Saint Ethelburgh’s feast day is : 11th October.
Saint Erkenwald (Erconwald, Eaconwald or Eorcenwald) was born about 630 AD and he died about 693 or 697 AD. He was Bishop of London in the Anglo Saxon Christian Church from 675 AD until he died in 693 or 697 AD. He was born at Lindsey near Hadleigh and Sudbury into the princely Offa family.
Erkenwald gave up his share of family wealth to establish two Benedictine abbeys in 661 AD. They were:
Barking Abbey, an abbey for women in the East Saxon Kingdom - Essex; and,
Chertsey Abbey, an abbey for men in Surrey, part of the South Saxon Kingdom - Sussex.
Erkenwald placed his sister, Ethelburgh as the head of the convent in Barking Abbey, while he served as Abbot of Chertsey Abbey.
In 675 AD after Bishop Wine died, Erkenwald became the Bishop of London and he immediately started the construction of a new and much larger Saint Paul's Cathedral, the third church on that site. There had been fires in London and attacks by Vikings and the previous church buildings were small, damaged, in poor repair, inadequate and short lived.
In 677 AD, Bishop Erkenwald is also reputed to have converted to Christianity, King Sebbi (or Sebba), King of the East Saxons.
Erkenwald died at Barking Abbey and he was first buried there and then buried later at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, then a part of Essex - The Kingdom of the East Saxons. The impressive shrine to Erkenwald in Saint Paul's attracted the visits of many pilgrims who came to pray for his soul from soon after his death until at least the 15th century. While there, many would also pray for the soul of Saint Melitus who laid nearby in his own shrine in Saint Paul's Cathedral.
Erkenwald died in either in 693 or 697 AD.
Saint Erkenwald's feast day is : 14th November in England,
or elsewhere it is on 13th May and on also on 24th and 30th April.
Saint Sebbi (also spelt Saebbi and Sebba) was the King of the East Saxons now called Essex and for most of the time from 664 to 683 AD, he was a devout Christian and the joint King with his brother Sighere, a pagan Saxon who was the husband of Saint Osyth, a devout Christian. After Sighere died, Sebbi became sole king of Essex until 694 AD when he abdicated to enter a monastry.
Sighere and Sebbi were cousins of their predecessor, King Swithelm, who only became king by murdering his brother King Sigeberht who was later named Saint Sigeberht.
In 665 AD, Sighere apostasized and returned to paganism, while Sebbi remained a faithful Christian. They soon developed a rivalry. Sighere found an ally in the Kingdom of Wessex and to balance his brother's treachery, Sebbi found an ally in the Kingdom of Mercia. As a result of their rivalry, King Wulfhere of Mercia tried to establish himself as an overlord of Essex in 665 AD. He sent Jaruman, the Bishop of Mercia, who was also assigned to reconvert the people of Essex to Christianity. Later, in 686 AD, Cædwalla, a Wessex sub-king, tried to establish himself as an overlord of Essex. As a result of that alliance, he and Sebbi invaded Kent, expelling the Kentish King Eadric. As a result, Sebbi then ruled over West Kent as well as his own Essex kingdom.
It was presumably at a similar time that King Sebbi founded the original Westminster Abey in London at a time when all of Middlesex was part of the Kingdom of Essex.
Sebbi is believed to have abdicated in 694 AD in order to enter a monastery and he was succeeded by his sons, Sigeheard and Swaefred, who ruled jointly over Essex.
Sebbi died in 695 AD and he was buried in Old St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London where he was revered as a saint.
Bede recounts the death and burial of King Sebbi thus (4.11) :
At that time, as the same little book informs us, Sebbi, a devout man, of whom mention has been made above, governed the kingdom of the East Saxons. He was much addicted to religious actions, alms giving, and frequent prayer; preferring a private and monastic life to all the wealth and honours of his kingdom, which sort of life he would also long before have undertaken, had not his wife positively refused to be divorced from him; for which reason many were of opinion, and often said so, that a person of such a disposition ought rather to have been a bishop than a king. When he had been thirty years a king and a soldier of the heavenly kingdom, he fell into a violent sickness, of which he died, and admonished his wife, that they should then at least jointly devote themselves to the service of God, since they could no longer enjoy, or rather serve, the world. Having with much difficulty obtained this of her, he went to Waldhere, the Bishop of London, who had succeeded Earconwald and with his blessing received the religious habit, which he had long desired. He also carried to him a considerable sum of money, to be given to the poor, reserving nothing to himself, but rather prefering to remain poor, but rich in spirit for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.
When the aforesaid distemper sickness increased upon him and he perceived the day of his death to be drawing near, being a man of a royal disposition, he began to apprehend lest, when under pain, and at the approach of death, he might be guilty of anything unworthy of his person, either in words, or any motion of his limbs. Wherefore, calling to him the aforesaid Bishop of London, in which city he then was, he entreated him that none might be present at his death, other than the bishop himself and two of his attendants. The bishop having promised that he would most willingly perform the same, not long after the man of God composed himself to sleep, and saw a comforting vision, which took from him all anxiety for the aforesaid uneasiness; and, moreover, showed him on what day he was to depart this life. For, as he afterwards related, he saw three men in bright garments come to him; one of whom sat down before his bed, whilst his companions stood and inquired about the state of the sick man they came to see: he who was sitting in front of the bed said, that his soul should depart his body without any pain, and with a great splendour of light; and declared that he should die the third day after; both which particulars happened, as he had been informed by the vision; for on the third day after, he suddenly fell, as it were, into a slumber, and breathed out his soul without any sense or pain.
A stone coffin having been provided for burying his body, when they came to lay it in the same, they found his body a span longer than the coffin. Hereupon they hewed away the stone, and made the coffin about two fingers longer; but neither would it then contain the body. Under this difficulty of entombing him, they had thoughts either to get another coffin, or else to shorten the body, by bending it at the knees, if they could. But a wonderful event, caused by Providence, prevented the execution of either of those designs for on a sudden, in the presence of the bishop, and Sighard, the son of the king who had turned monk, and who reigned after him jointly with his brother Suefred, and of a considerable number of men, that same coffin was found to answer the length of the body, insomuch that a pillow might also be put in at the head; and at the feet the coffin was four fingers longer than the body. He was buried in the church of the blessed Apostle of the Gentiles, by whose instructions he had learned to hope for heavenly things.
Sebbi died in 695 AD and he was soon named a saint.
Saint Sebbi’s feast day is : 29th August.
Saint Osyth, also called Osgyth, was the daughter of Frithwald, a ruler of Mercia's province of Surrey. In her youth, she vowed perpetual virginity, but was betrothed against her will to Sighere, the pagan King of the East Saxons. Some say she bore a son and became a nun after Sighere’s death. Others say that before the marriage could be consummated, she stole away and took the veil as a nun and afterwards obtained an agreement with Sighere to relinquish her marriage.
Her husband, King Sighere made her a gift of land in the village of Chich which is now known as Saint Osyth, locally called "Toosey" in the Essex rural accent. Osyth used the land to build and maintain a nunnery and she was the Abbess there until 700 AD when she was killed.
The Danes under Ingwar (Inguar) and Ubba (Hubba) sacked the convent, they killed many there and beheaded Osyth. According to legend, once beheaded, she picked up her head like Saint Denis and guided by angels, she walked to the church where she knocked on the door and fell prostrate. A fountain sprung up at the spot where she was beheaded and the water was renowned for its restorative properties.
Osyth was murdered by the Danes in about 700 AD and she was soon named a saint.
Saint Osyth’s feast day is : 7th October.
Saint Nothelm or Nothhelm was the Bishop of London, while London was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of the East Saxons, now called Essex.
During that time, The Kingdom of East Saxon was starting to be menaced by the Mercians, another Saxon tribe and kingdom to the northwest. The Mercians tried to annexe and rule Essex, but later, they were prepared to have Essex ruled separately by Essex Kings but under the influence of the Kingdom of Mercia.
Nothelm was Bishop of London until 735 AD, when he became the Archbishop of Canterbury until his death four years later.
Nothelm died on 17th October 739 AD and he was soon named a saint.
Saint Nothelm’s feast day is : 17th October.
Saint Edmund was a king of the East Angles who was born in 841 AD. He was crowned king at Bures St Mary on the Essex border on 25th December 855 or 856 AD aged 14 and he ruled for 14 years until he was killed on 20th November 869 or 870 AD age 28 or 29 in a battle with the invading Danes. Edmund had been a Christian from birth.
Edmunds place of death is not certain, at least 3 possibilities are suggested, but in view of the association with being shot by arrows while tied to a tree in a forest and his head being disposed of and later found inside a forest, that forest may have been Epping Forest which is now only 3 miles from Greensted where he was first buried for a few decades, but in the 9th century, the forest would have been much larger and nearer to Greensted than it is now.
According to legend, the Vikings tied him to a tree in a forest and demanded that he share power with them in his kingdom and they demanded that he abandon his Christian faith. He refused all of their demands and so he was first shot by arrows, then he was decapitated and his head was thrown into the forest. When his supporters found his body, they could not find his head, but on shouting out his name, a wolf by his head appeared to call out "hic, hic, hic", as if the head was replying in Latin "here, here, here", thus enabling them to find it.
His body was quickly buried in Greensted church near Ongar, then many years later, his body was moved, possibly in 902 or 903 AD, 34 years after his death, but some documents say that his body was exhumed from Greensted and moved to Bury in 1013, 144 years and perhaps as much as 150 years after his death, said to be after a memorial church shrine was built at Beadoriceworth, later called Bedrichesworth and later still called Bury St Edmunds. In fact, King Canute had a sanctuary built in Bury in 1020 to house Saint Edmund's body. After he was exhumed at Greensted, it was found that his head was now firmly attached to his neck and despite the long burial, the skin and hair of Saint Edmund was undamaged as if he were sleeping.
The early Saxon timber church of Greensted near Ongar in Essex was for many years his first resting place. Some say that the church was rebuilt or extended in 1013 AD for Saint Edmund before his final exhumation and his journey to Bury. Since then, from those early times, Essex has claimed a valid share in the memory of Saint Edmund.
Saint Edmund was the patron saint of England from soon after his death in the 9th century until at least the 17th century. Thus, he was England's patron saint for about 800 years, 400 years longer than Saint George has been our saint.
By comparison, Saint George was made the patron saint of England by order of King Henry VIII in the mid 1500s AD for very flippant reasons - because he wanted a new saint, because he wanted a warrior saint, because he had the power to do it, because it amused him, and in order to demonstrate his immense power. However, the English public did not agree with King Henry and for nearly 150 years nationwide, the public continued to pray for Saint Edmund only.
Edmund was killed by the Danes on 20th November 869 AD.
Saint Edmund’s feast day is : 20th November.
Saint Dunstan was the Bishop of London in the mid 900s AD in the ancient capital of The Kingdom of the East Saxons, now called Essex, but by then, Essex had come under the dominence of the Mercians and was almost part of the Saxon Kingdom of Mercia and they in turn had recently come under the rule or influence of the West Saxons who wished to dominate and annexe Mercia and its dependencies, Essex and East Anglia.
Dunstan was the Bishop of London from 956 to 960 AD and then he became the Archbishop of Canterbury until 978 AD when he died at the great age of 79.
Dunstan had been a blacksmith and a jeweller before becoming a priest and that is why he is the patron saint of goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers. The date or year mark on precious metal hallmarks runs from 19th May to 18th May the following year, thus starting from Saint Dunston's feast day, the day he died, which is this important Essex saint's feast day.
Dunstan died on 19th May 988 AD.
Saint Dunstan’s feast day is : 19th May.
SAINT THOMAS BECKET
Saint Thomas Becket, later called Thomas à Becket was a prominent and popular Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his death in 1170 AD.
Thomas Becket was murdered at the age of 51 in Canterbury Cathedral by renegade knights who were motivated to "please the king", King Henry II, who was known to be displeased with Becket and was alleged to have said : "Who would rid me of this troublesome priest ?".
Thomas Becket was extremely popular with the ordinary population of England and after his death, hundreds of thousands of folk made their way on foot from all over England to his place of death at Canterbury Cathedral. A Pilgrim's Way runs across the South Coast, but for people living in the north of England, the Midlands and East Anglia, the main route was via the Tilbury Ferry to Kent and a prominent town along the route was Brentwood which had a small church in the middle of the town which was dedicated to Saint Thomas and was said to have had a strong connection with Thomas Becket before he became archbishop, before his death and before his martyrdom and sainthood. The road through Brentwood was an essential route and its Thomas Becket Chapel was a place that all pilgrims wished to stop at, to rest, to stay, to feast and to pray for Saint Thomas' soul. Thomas à Becket's chapel is now a ruin which can be seen just off the High Street of Brentwood.
In March 2017, Brentwood Borough Council unveiled a large saintly statue entiled "The Pilgrim's Staff" to recognise the importance that the town had for Pilgrims on their way through Brentwood to Canterbury.
Other routes through Essex had sanctuaries dedicated to Saint Thomas. Hullbridge near Rayleigh and South Fambridge near Rochford were important crossing points for pilgrims over the wide tidal River Crouch and both villages had a holy place to rest, feast and pray for their dearly beloved Saint Thomas's soul. The Hullbridge chapel was near the crossing slipway and inn, now called The Anchor Inn. The Fambridge chapel was beside the Old Ferry House in South Fambridge. Both those sanctuaries have long fallen down or been demolished.
Thomas à Becket remained Archbishop of Canterbury until his untimely violent death on 29th December 1170 AD.
Saint Thomas à Becket’s feast day is : 29th December.
SAINT ROGER NIGER
Saint Roger Niger of Beeleigh (c1173 - 1241) was an English priest from near Maldon in Essex. he was born near Beeleigh a small hamlet 1 mile from Maldon with its ancient harbour. Some say that Roger Niger may have come from Maldon town.
He was educated at Beeleigh Abbey which was an abbey built or rebuilt in 1180 after their order had moved from Parndon near Harlow to Beeleigh. It was a Monastery of the Premonstatension Order, also known as The White Canons. It was from this holy place that Roger Niger became Canon of St Paul's in London in 1192 at the age of about 19 years.
In 1218, he was made Archdeacon of Colchester, a role that he kept until 1229.
In 1228, he was elected as Bishop of London, but he was consecrated as Bishop on 11 June 1229.
Bishop Roger Niger died on either 29th September or 2nd October 1241 AD. Although the latter date may have been the day of his funeral. His funeral was at Saint Paul's Cathedral in London and his heart was cut out and taken for burial in the chapel of Beeleigh Abbey.
There was an eclipse of the sun during his funeral and that eclipse was considered a special sign, but later several miracles occurred to people visiting his tomb in St Paul's and also to those pilgrims who visited Beeleigh Abbey where his heart was taken for burial near the altar in the Abbey near his home.
He was canonised and was named Saint Roger Niger of Beeleigh and in 1391 AD, Pope Boniface IX was one of the Popes who considered Roger Niger an important saint. Beeleigh Abbey and St Paul's both became important and regular sites of reverence associated with him and both sites attracted pilgrims from far and wide.
Beeleigh Abbey was an important place of pilgrimage and pilgims to Beeleigh included the King of England Edward I and his wife Queen Eleanor of Castile who came to his tomb in 1289 AD. Pilgrims continued to come to the place where Saint Roger's heart was buried until Beeleigh Abbey closed in 1536 and it was partly demolished, but soon after, it was bought by John Gates, Privy Councillor, who was beheaded in 1553 on the orders of Queen Mary for being associated with or for supporting Queen Lady Jane Gray. The present day Abbey is smaller than in Roger Niger's days, but it is still impressive and it belongs to the Foyle family and has an impressive library.
Many pilgtims would arrive to celebrate Roger Niger's sainthood and feast day on or close to the date of his death, 29th September 1241 AD.
Saint Roger Niger of Beeleigh's feast day is : 29th September.
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SAINT JOHN HOUGHTON
Saint John Houghton (1486–1535) was a Carthusian Catholic priest from Terling in Essex.
He was executed for his faith on the 4th May 1535 at Tyburn in London during the reign of Henry VIII.
That date, 4th May, has been kept as the feast day for all of the English Martyrs who followed him. John Houghton was the first of the martyrs to be executed.
His feast day is the same as the date that he was martyred - 4th May 1535, and that same date is used to celebrate all of the many following English Martyrs.
Saint John Houghton's feast day is : 4th May.
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William Tyms (Timmes) who died in 1556 was a parish priest, the curate of Hockley in Essex. He was the Protestant curate at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Hockley, Essex.
He was executed for his protestant faith by being burnt at the stake at Smithfield in London on the 24th April 1556 during the reign of Mary I, the catholic Tudor queen known as "Bloody Mary".
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SAINT JOHN PAINE
Saint John Paine (or Payne) (1532–1582) was an English Catholic priest martyr, one of the Catholic "Forty Martyrs of England and Wales".
John Paine was born in Peterborough in 1532 AD and he was possibly a convert to Catholicism from a Protestant family. He was probably a mature man when in 1574 AD, he went to the English College at Douai, then in Flanders part of Holland, now in France. He served there as bursar and he was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Cambrai on 7 April 1576 AD. Shortly afterwards, on 24 April 1576, he left for an English mission in the company of another priest, Cuthbert Mayne. While Mayne headed for his native South West England, Paine resided for the most part at Ingatestone, Essex, but also in London with Anne, widow of Sir William Petre and daughter of Sir William Browne, for some time the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Shortly after his arrival, he was converted (or re-converted) to Catholicism by the eminent George Godsalve (or Godsalf) of the diocese of Bath, a man who had gained a B.A. at Oxford and had been ordained a deacon in the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary, but who had then become a Protestant. Paine sent Godsalve to Douai, where he arrived on 15 July 1576 AD to be prepared for the Catholic priesthood, which he was to receive at Cambrai on 22 December 1576.
Paine was arrested at Ingatestone and he was imprisoned early in 1577, but he was soon released and went back to Douai that November. From there, he probably returned to Ingatestone before Christmas 1579 AD.
Early in July 1581, Paine and Godsalve, who had come to England in June 1577 were arrested in Warwickshire whilst staying on the estate of Lady Petre, widow of John Petre, the 18th Baron Petre. His arrest came to happen through the efforts of the informer George "Judas" Eliot, a known criminal, murderer, rapist and thief, who made a career out of denouncing Catholics and priests for a cash bounty. After being examined by the ruthless Sir Francis Walsingham at Greenwich, the two were committed to the Tower of London on 14 July 1581 AD.
Godsalve did not give in, but he spent several years in prison, after which he was released from the Marshalsea Prison in September 1585 and he was banished, dying in Paris in 1592 AD. Paine was a more significant catch and he was tortured on the rack on the orders of the Privy Council on 14 August and again on 31 October 1581 AD. On 20 March 1582 AD, he was abruptly woken, taken from his cell half dressed and delivered by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Owen Hopton of Cockfield Hall in Suffolk and he was handed over to officers who were waiting to take him to Chelmsford Gaol. He was not allowed to return to his cell to get his purse, which was then stolen by the Lieutenant's wife, Anne Echyngham.
Paine was indicted at Chelmsford on 22 March 1582 on a false charge of treason for conspiring to murder the Queen and her leading officers and to install Mary, Queen of Scots onto the English throne. Paine denied the charges, and affirmed his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth in all that was lawful in English Law but was not contrary to his Catholicism or his allegiance to the Pope, he also contested the reliability of claims made by the murderer Eliot. No attempt was made to corroborate Eliot's false story, which had already been rehearsed at the trial of Edmund Campion on 22 November 1581. The guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion and Paine was sentenced to death.
His execution took place on the morning of Monday, 2 April 1582, 9 months after his imprisonment, he was dragged from prison on a hurdle to the place of execution where he first prayed on his knees for almost half an hour and then kissed the scaffold, he made a profession of faith and declared his innocence. Reinforcements had been sent from London to help make the execution run smoothly. Lord Rich called upon him to repent of his treason, which Paine again denied. A Protestant minister then shouted a claim that years ago Paine's brother had admitted to him of Paine's treason. Paine said that his brother was and always had been an earnest Protestant but that even so, he would never swear to such a thing. To bear this out, Paine asked that the brother, who was in the locality, be brought, but he was not found in time and the execution proceeded and Paine was then turned off the ladder. The government's intentions for a smooth execution with minimal trouble and maximum propaganda value had failed. Indeed, the crowd had become so sympathetic to Paine that they hung onto his feet to speed his death and prevented the infliction of much more pain by the drawing and quartering until he was dead. The executioner was the notoriously incompetent Simon Bull who was rebuked by the crowds for the short hanging drop and for dithering over the quartering in case Paine were to revive and suffer further.
John Paine was one of the group of prominent Catholic martyrs who had been subjected to persecution and death who were later designated as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. He was beatified "equipollently" by Pope Leo XIII, by means of a decree of 29 December 1886 and Paine was canonised along with the other Forty Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI on 25 October 1970.
Saint John Payne School, a Roman Catholic secondary school which is an ex grammar school in Chelmsford is named after him. Prior to 1970, it had been called The Blesed John Payne School.
John Paine was executed and martyred on 2 April 1582 AD during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Saint John Paine's feast day is : 4th May,
the same day as for all of the English Martyrs;
Previously, it was : 25 October, a date now reserved for the 6 Welsh Martyrs.
SAINT ANNE LINE
Saint Anne Line (or Alice Higham) of Great Dunmow and Maldon (1563–1601).
Anne Line was also called Alice Higham. She came from Great Dunmow in Essex where she was born in about 1563 and spent her early years in that town. For a while, she lived in Woodfod, Essex. Alice was born into a Protestant Puritan family from Maldon, Essex. Her father was very angry when she and her husband Roger Line converted to the Catholic faith. After conversion, she seems to have changed her name from Alice to Anne as a sign of her new faith.
She became a devout Catholic who was pleased when Queen Mary restored the Catholic faith to England and was very displeased when Queen Elizabeth restored the Protestant faith.
After Anne Line's husband died, she used to help at secret Catholic masses and she would feed, look after and house Catholic priests, which at that time was a crime, considered to be treason. She was discovered to be helping those priests during a large Candlemas and mass while managing a secret house of refuge in London for priests established by the notorious priest John Gerard who was known to have been involved with the plot to free Mary, Queen of Scots to put her onto the English Throne. Father Gerard was also heavily involved with the plotters in the infamous Gunpowder Plot to blow up the King during the opening of Parliament.
The rebel Catholic priests were under strict orders from the Pope to bring about an end to protestantism and restore catholicism in England by any means possible.
Anne Line was charged with harbouring those banned Catholic priests and when cross examined in court why she helped the priest, she replied that her only regret was that she had not helped and harboured one thouand priests.
Anne Line was arrested on the 2 February 1601. She was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty and was executed by hanging for her faith at Tyburn, London on the 27th February 1601 during the reign of Elizabeth I. At Tyburn, she met a priest from Woodford whom she must have helped.
Anne Line was considered to be a Jesuit Martyr and she was among the last few of the martyrs to be executed. Her feast day is the same date as has been reserved for all of the English Martyrs.
Saint Anne Line's feast day is : 4th May,
the same day as for all of the English Martyrs.
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OTHER ESSEX SAINTS :
Details about Saint Adeliza / Abbess Adeliza will be added soon.
Details about Saint Cuthburga, sister of Cwenburh of Wimborne will be added soon.
Details about Saint Hidelitha sister of Saint Ethelburga will be added soon.