Tuesday, 2 October 2012

St. Edwin was the second Christian king in England, and the first in the northern
English kingdom of Northumbria. He was born in 584 into the royal family of Deira,
and spent much of his early life in Wales and East Anglia, fleeing from King Ethelfrith
of Northumbria. He married Cwenburga of Mercia, by whom he had two sons. In 616,
with the help of King Redwald of East Anglia, his host in exile, Edwin defeated and
killed Ethelfrith at the battle of the
River Idle, and became king of
Northumbria. After the death of
Cwenburga, he sought the hand of
Ethelburga, a Christian princess
from Kent. His suit was initially
rejected, but then accepted on
condition that Ethelburga was
allowed to practice her own religion
and that Edwin would seriously
consider becoming a Christian. In
625 St. Paulinus was consecrated
bishop and sent to York as
Ethelburga’s chaplain. Edwin
thought long and carefully before
becoming a Christian. He received a
letter of encouragement from Pope

Boniface, and he was astounded when St. Paulinus displayed clairvoyance concerning
a mysterious vision that Edwin had had some years before. But he still insisted on
consulting with his chief men about the matter. At this meeting Coifi, the chief pagan
Priest, confessed his conversion to the new religion, and even took the initiative in
destroying his pagan idols. Inspired by this example, King Edwin, his nobles and a
large number of the poorer people agreed to be baptised by the holy bishop in York
at Pascha, 627. Under the leadership of Saints Edwin and Paulinus, the conversion of
the north of England to the Christian faith proceeded apace. Moreover, St. Edwin
acquired extensive territories in Scotland (the Scottish capital of Edinburgh is named
after him), in the West (Anglesey and Man) and even in the south, becoming the
overlord of the southern kingdoms except Kent. The Venerable Bede writes: “So
peaceful was it in those parts of Britain under King Edwin’s jurisdiction that the
proverb still runs that a woman could carry her new-born babe across the island from
sea to sea without any fear of harm. Such was the king’s concern for the welfare of
his people that in a number of places where he had noticed clear springs adjacent to
the highway he ordered posts to be erected with brass bowls hanging from them, so
that travellers could drink and refresh themselves. And so great was the people’s
affection for him, and so great the awe in which he was held, that no one wished or
ventured to use these bowls for any other purpose. So royally was the king’s dignity
maintained throughout the realm that whether in battle or on a peaceful progress on
horseback through city, town, and countryside in the company of his thegns, the
royal standard was always borne before him.“ However, the British Christian King
Cadwalla of Wales rebelled against him, and, combining with the pagan King Penda of
Mercia, defeated and killed King Edwin on October 12, 633 at the battle of Hatfield.
His sons Osfrid and Eadfrid were also killed. The site of the battle is said to have been
near Doncaster. However, according to another tradition, it took place in Sherwood
forest, Nottinghamshire. There, in a clearing in the forest, he was secretly buried. By
the time his friends had returned to collect the body for a proper royal burial in York,
people were calling him St. Edwin. A small wooden chapel was erected on the spot
where he was first buried, which is now in the town of Edwinstowe.“The head of King
Edwin,” writes Bede, “was carried to York and subsequently placed in the church of
the blessed Apostle Peter, which he had begun to build, but which his successor
Oswald completed…”
St. Edwin is commemorated on October 12.
Holy Martyr-King Edwin, pray to God for us!