WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13: It’s the feast of St. Edward the Confessor today, and members of the Church of England and other Anglican churches recall the man who built the first stone abbey at what today is the grand landmark known as Westminster Abbey.
St. Edward Downgraded for Most Catholics
For about 500 years, Roman Catholics celebrated St. Edward on Oct. 13, too, until his status in the worldwide Catholic calendar of saints was downgraded in 1969. His feast was moved to January 5 in 1969 and was marked as an option for regions of the church that feel a special connection to St. Edward. Still, some traditional Catholics continue to observe this feast today, as does Catholic.org.
Patron Saint of Kings
St. Edward ruled England between 1042 and 1066 as the last king of the House of Wessex, but many Christians remember him as more than just a king. Less than 100 years after his death, Edward was canonized by Pope Alexander III. (Details are at Wikipedia.) He remains the patron saint of the royal family and is widely considered the patron saint of kings and difficult marriages.
St. Edward’s Miracles
From birth to kingship, Edward’s life was not an easy one—exile, murder, terrible plots and vicious fights for the crown were commonplace in this saint’s early life. Still, Edward was able to rule England peacefully and to bring prosperity to the country. (The BBC has more.) St. Edward’s reported miracles were contributing factors to his eventual canonization, and he was known for healing people by touch. (For nearly 700 years following, a traditional belief held that royalty could heal the ill by touching them.) St. Edward was also credited with resisting worldly temptations and helping the poor.
So where does Westminster Abbey fit into this saint’s story? Shortly before being crowned, Edward vowed that he would make a pilgrimage to St. Peter’s, in Rome, if he could only return safely to his kingdom. When Edward’s hope became reality, he found himself too occupied to fulfill his promise—and so the Pope officially excused his pilgrimage in exchange for word that he would build a monastery in the name of St. Peter. Edward built a stone structure to replace the Saxon church at Westminster, and that site grew until it is known around the world today as Westminster Abbey.
Celebration of Edwardtide and an Ecumenical Milestone
Edward will be remembered in England all this week during Edwardtide, a celebration of the saint’s life, held at Westminster Abbey. (Read more at the official site of Westminster Abbey.) This week’s free festivities are open to all, and visitors can attend performances by the Westminster choirs, a translation of the saint’s life, services, processions and more. Last month, Pope Benedict and the Archbishop of Canterbury met at Westminster Abbey, where several landmark events occurred in the hope of bringing the Catholic and Anglican churches closer together. Pope Benedict was the first Pontiff to visit Westminster and the two leaders prayed at the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor. (The Telegraph, a UK publication, has the full story.) The two Churches conflict in views on homosexuality and women in priesthood, but the leaders’ meeting proved their intent on improving relations between their worldwide branches of Christianity.