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April 19

St Alphege - April 19

Saint Alphege (also Elphege)
Bishop, Martyr
(Around 954 – 1012)

What reward can I hope for if I spend upon myself what belongs to the poor? Better give to the poor what is ours, then take from them the little which is their own.”

Saint Alphege

Saint’s Life Story

His Early Life

lphege (or Elphege) was born around 954 in Weston, Somerset, England, on the outskirts of Bath. Though he would have inherited considerable lands since he came from a noble Saxon family, Alphege chose to enter the monastery of Deerhurst Abbey near Tewkesbury, England.

Monk and Abott

However, the life in the monastery was not ascetic enough for him, so Alphege withdrew to the monastery at Bath, England. After spending time there as a monk and anchorite, Alphege eventually became the abbot at Bath Abbey. During his time in this position, he was known for his personal piety and strict adherence to austerity. He devoted himself to prayer and penance, to contemplation and humility. All he wanted was to glorify God by living a quiet, austere, meek life. But, God had other plans.

Bishop of Winchester

His reputation for holiness grew. In 984, Alphege was consecrated as the Bishop of Winchester, England. As bishop, Alphege made significant contributions to the Church and society. He built numerous churches and was particularly renowned for his philanthropy. His charity was so extensive that it was said there were no beggars within his diocese. Additionally, Alphege installed a cathedral organ in Winchester Cathedral, which was so vast in size that its sound could be heard up to a mile away.

In 994, when Alphege had been at Winchester for ten years, King Ethelred chose him to be his ambassador to King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, who was wintering with his fleet at Southampton. At Andover, Alphege confirmed King Olaf, who was already baptized, and Ethelred adopted him as his godson. The treaty that was concluded between the two Kings made a peace that brought an end to Viking raids and lasted until Olaf’s death. His efforts towards promoting peace and reconciliation were highly regarded.

Archbishop of Canterbury

When he was thirty years old in 1006, Saint Dunstan, who was then Archbishop of Canterbury, called him to become Bishop of Winchester in recognition of his dedication and leadership. As Archbishop, Alphege continued to inspire devotion to Saint Dunstan of Canterbury, a prominent figure in English religious history. He also facilitated the translation of the relics of Saint Swithun to Canterbury, further enriching the spiritual heritage of the region.

When Alphege returned from Rome having received the pallium from Pope John XVIII, he joined Wulfstan of York in persuading Ethelred to hold a Council at Evesham. At this council, he drew up decrees forbidding the selling of Christians to heathen masters as slaves and made recommendations against the marriage of clergy.

Captured by Danes

Unfortunately, in 1011, the Danes resumed their raids and laid siege to Canterbury. Alphege refused to leave the city, daily offering the Holy Sacrifice and giving Communion to the defenders, before they took their places back in the battle. After twenty days, the city fell to the Danes, the Cathedral was burned, the City plundered and Alphege was taken prisoner.

The Danish pirates took Alphege back to their ships, hoping to receive a substantial ransom. But, Alphege would not allow his people to be further robbed with alms collected from the poor. For several months, he endured captivity held in chains.

His Death

On the Saturday in Easter Week, the Danes were feasting on the oxen and wine they had taken in their raids on the south coast. Having drunk deeply, they called for Alphege to be brought into the hall. They began to demand yet again a ransom. Enfuriated by his refusal, they pelted him with the bones and horns of the oxen they had been eating. Alphege fell to the ground grievously injured. One of the Danes, called Thrum, whom Alphege had converted, had pity on him and ended his sufferings by striking the back of his head with an axe dying on April 19, 1012 in Greenwich, Kent (part of modern London), England.

Alphege became the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die violently. Significantly, Saint Thomas Becket, the later famous martyr, was praying for Saint Alphege’s intercession at the time of his own assassination. This connection highlights Alphege’s esteemed spiritual reputation and the profound impact he had on those who looked to him for guidance and support.

His body was recovered and buried at St Paul’s in London, but was translated to Canterbury with great honor by the Danish King Canute in 1023. Saint Alphege’s representation is often depicted as a bishop holding an axe, symbolizing the instrument used in his martyrdom.

Born:                   Around 954 in Weston, Somerset, England

Died:                   April 19, 1012 in Greenwich, Kent (part of modern London), England

Beatified:           Not Known

Canonized:        1078 by Pope Saint Gregory VII

Feast Day:         April 19

Patron Saint:    Canterbury, England; Greenwich, England; Kidnap Victims; Solihull, England

Source:

Reflection

Saint Alphege’s martyrdom is a powerful testament to the ultimate sacrifice one can make for their Christian beliefs. Captured by Danes in 1011, he was held for seven months. Saint Alphege refused to allow his people to pay a hefty ransom. So, in 1012, he died a brutal death being beaten with bones and ox skulls and then eventually ended his sufferings by striking the back of his head with an axe. However, he remained dignified and forgiving until the end, reportedly praying for his assailants. This profound act of forgiveness and acceptance of martyrdom highlights the Christian ideals of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

Like Saint Alphege, how can you sacrifice your own comfort today for the sake of those you serve trusting in God’s providence?

Prayers

Saint Alphege,

You who faced the trials and tribulations of your time with unwavering trust in the Lord.

We turn to you in prayer, seeking your intercession and guidance.

Grant us the strength and courage to remain steadfast in our faith, even when confronted with adversity and challenges.

Help us to embrace the true spirit of servant leadership, putting the needs of others before our own and seeking justice for the vulnerable.

May your example guide us in our daily lives, inspiring us to live with integrity, compassion, and a deep commitment to the Gospel.

Saint Alphege, pray for us. Amen.

Saint Links 

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 19 April – St Alphege

America Needs Fatima – Saint Alphege of Canterbury

Catholic Exchange – St. Elphege, Martyr

Catholic Insight – Ælfheah of Canterbury and Leo IX of Rome

Catholic Lane – St. Elphege (Alphege), Archbishop

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Elphege the Martyr – by Katherine I Rabenstein

CatholicSaints.Info – Book of Saints – Elphege – by Monks of Ramsgate

Celtic Saints – St. Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyred at Greenwich (+1012)

Independent Catholic News – St Alphege

New Advent – Ryan, P.W.F. (1909). St. Elphege. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Newman Ministry – St. Alphege – Archbishop of Canterbury

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St. Alphege

Saint of the Day – April 19 Saint Alphege

Sanctoral – Saint Elphege Archbishop of Canterbury, Martyr (954-1012)

Video Link

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints – Saint Elphege, Archbishop – YouTube (CatholicSaints.Info)