Friday, April 19, 2013

Holy Elf-High

Today (Friday) is the feast of St. Aelfheah, also known as St. Alphege or St. Godwine, who had an interesting martyrdom in the late tenth century. He was chosen to be Bishop of Winchester. While he was doing episcopal things, like building a massive organ in the cathedral, there was a big Viking raid under none other than Olaf Tryggvason. We don't know for sure the exact details, but after the raid, Olaf signed a treaty with the locals (guaranteeing him danegeld) and was baptized as a Christian by Aelfheah.

Aelfheah eaventually became Archbishop of Canterbury, and a few years after the Danes raided, burned the cathedral, and captured Aelfheah. He refused to pay a ransom to his kidnappers, and refused to let anyone else do it. Angered (and, by all accounts, drunk), they took him out to throw things at him, and eventually he was hit with the butt of an axe and died. According to some versions, his death led Thorkell the Tall to defect from the Danes to the English, helping Aethelred the Unready to fight off King Cnute. Cnute himself, however, eventually had Aelfheah's body moved back to Canterbury. St. Anselm of Canterbury did a great deal of work to restore his shrine and devotion, and it is said that St. Thomas Becket commended himself to St. Aelfheah before he died.

Last year there was a big set of celebrations commemorating the Millenium of Saint Alphege.

Elf-high, of course, is the literal meaning of Aelfheah's name.

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