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July 17

St. Kenelm - July 17

Saint Kenelm
King, Martyr
(Unknown – 821)

No quotes available for St. Kenelm

Saint Kenelm

His Early Years

Kenelm (Cynehelm), a son of the pious King Kenulf (or Coenwulf) of the ancient and powerful English kingdom of Mercia, was born at unknown date at an unknown location. Some historians put Kenelm’s birth around 786. However, this date does not match if his father died around 821 and Kenelm took over as King as a 7 year old. His father founded the abbey of Winchcombe.

King at Age 7

Around 821, King Kenulf of Mercia died, leaving two daughters, Quendryda (Cwenthryth) and Burgenhilda, and his only son, Kenelm. However, Kenelm, as a child of seven years old, was named Kenelm, who was chosen to succeed his father as King.

Kenelm had two elder sisters: Burgenhilda, who loved him with all her heart, and the jealous, power-hungry Quendryda. She thought if Kenelm was killed, she would reign as queen. First, Quendryda gave Kenelm poison, but the Lord protected him.

So, Quendryda gave money to his guardian and tutor, Ascobert. She told him, ” Slay me my brother, that I may reign.” Burgenilda was not privy to this wicked plot, for she loved her little brother.

Then, Quendryda instructed her lover Ascobert, Kenelm’s tutor, to murder the defenseless king.

Hunting Legend

An opportunity offered itself to Ascobert during a hunting trip in the Forests of Worcestershire.

The day before his martyrdom, Kenelm dreamed that he had climbed up a tall tree, which was very bright, adorned with flowers and fruit of shining colours—and had reached the sun. From the top he saw Mercia: three fourths of the kingdom bowed to him as a king and one fourth refused and began to fell the tree with axes. As the tree fell, the adolescent turned into a bird and flew high to heaven, feeling unearthly bliss. The boy related his dream to his old and wise nanny Wolweline. She wept very bitterly, realizing that the boy was to be martyred very soon and that unrighteous people were to seize power in the kingdom. But, at the same time, she rejoiced as Kenelm was to dwell among the saints.

S. Kenelm’s Ash

Then, Ascobert took Kenelm into a wood, under pretence of hunting. Since Kenelm was tired with the heat, he laid down under a tree and went to sleep. Ascobert began to dig a grave. But, Kenelm awoke and said, “It is in vain that you think to kill me here. I shall be slain in another spot. In token whereof see this rod blossom.” Then, Kenelm stuck a stick into the ground, which instantly took root and began to flower. After days, it grew to be a great ash tree, which was called S. Kenelm’s ash.

Beheaded by Ascobert

Then, Ascobert took the little king to another spot, and the child began to sing the “Te Deum.” When Kenelm came to the verse, “Thee, the white-robed army of martyrs praise,” Ascobert cut off Kenelm’s head and buried him in a thicket.

Kenelm died on 821 at Clent Hills near Birmingham, England. One version says that Kenelm was beheaded in the forests of Worcestershire and another one says that it happened among the picturesque Clent hills in north Worcestershire, south of Birmingham. The place was known as Kenelmstow— after Saint Kenelm, but later it was called Romsley.

White Dove to Rome

Meanwhile, the soul of the murdered Kenelm flew in the form of white dove to the Pope of Rome, throwing a scroll onto the altar. When the Mass was finished the Pope took this holy message and tried to read it. However, the Pope found that he could not understand the words, for it was written in English and he did not speak any English. So, he had every foreigner in Rome summoned to him, to see if any of them could understand it. And it happened that there were some Englishmen in Rome who knew exactly what the message said when it was read to them. The text was in pure English and to paraphrase it without rhyme it said: ‘In Clent, Cowbach, Kenelm the king’s son lies under a thorn tree with his head removed.’

The Pope reported the miracle to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Wilfred. A procession, led by the bishop of Lichfield with many priests and monks, made its way to the site. The relics were uncovered on the same day. A column of heavenly light was seen at the site of Kenelm’s martyrdom before and long after uncovering of his relics. Once they had been found, a stream of holy water gushed there from the ground. For many centuries, miracles of healing occurred from this well.

Part of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”

Geoffrey Chaucer dedicated one of his “Canterbury Tales” (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale) to Saint Kenelm who was loved, sung and depicted by outstanding English poets and painters.  Saint John Henry Newman made frequent pilgrimages to the shrine of Saint Kenelm’s martyrdom. For many years the villagers of Kenelstowe, England celebrated Saint Kenelm’s Day with the ancient custom of “crabbing the parson” – bombarding the parson with crab apples!

Born :                   Unknown Date in an Unknown Location

Died:                    821 at Clent Hills near Birmingham, England

Beatified:            Pre-Congregation

Canonized:         Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:          July 17

Patron Saint:     None



Saint Kenelm was a young king, and his innocence is emphasized in the legends surrounding his life. Saint Kenelm faced betrayal and danger, yet he trusted in God’s providence. He is a martyr for the Christian faith.

How you can bear witness today to your faith in your daily life? This witnessing may not necessarily involve physical martyrdom, but rather living out your beliefs with strong conviction and fearless courage or “doing the small things well”.


St. Kenelm,

In humble reverence, I turn to you, young king and witness to the faith. Your innocence and trust in divine providence inspire me on my own spiritual journey.

Strengthen my faith so that I may face challenges with the same trust in God that you exhibited in your life. Help me to embrace the responsibilities entrusted to me with humility and a sense of duty, recognizing that true leadership lies in service to others.

As I reflect on your legacy of faith, I pray for your intercession in my own journey. May I leave a legacy of love, humility, and devotion to God.

St. Kenelm, young and faithful king, pray for us. Amen

Saint Links 

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler. Volume XII: December. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. December 13 St. Kenelm, King and Martyr

Catholic Online – St. Kenelm

Saint for a Minute – Saint Kenelm

Saint Kenelm Pilgrimage Society

St. Kenelm’s Walks – The Legend of Saint Kenelm

Video Link

The Legend of St. Kenelm – YouTube (Meargreen)