The Catholic Church in England has a history rich with beauty and ugliness, wonders and horrors, saints and scandalous sinners. This long, storied history stretches back into the mists of time, and at times is more nebulous than clear. However, one of the many bright beacons in the distant, dark past of this nation’s Church, is St. Edward the Confessor, king of England and saint of the poor. St. Edward was a model of unity, combating divisiveness in his kingdom and recognizing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the fundamental unifying principle.
Edward was born sometime between 1002 and 1005, son of King Aethelred II “the Unready” and Queen Emma. During his formative years, Edward reportedly preferred to assist at the Mass and lose himself in prayer to the typical pleasures and dalliances of royalty. The Christian faith that had been fostered in Edward would help him get through many trying years that were to come.
Upon the death of Aethelred II, several Danish kings ruled England, and Edward, his brother, and his mother were sent to Denmark to be killed. However, they were pitied, and sent to Sweden, and subsequently to the King of Hungary to be cared for. When the boys grew older, they sought refuge in Normandy across the English Channel. It is said that Edward, while in exile in Normandy, pledged to make a pilgrimage to Rome if his family’s seat on the throne was ever re-instated.
Edward was invited to return to England in 1041, and in 1042 he was crowned King of England. Due to his time spent in Normandy, resentment began to grew in his Anglo-Saxon kingdom, and accusations of favoritism abounded. Edward was, by his actions, forging a unity between the Anglo-Saxons and Normans, but a unity that would take much time to be brought to fruition. A further attempt at unity was made when Edward married the daughter of Goodwin of Wessex, who was a sort of leader of the resentful, in 1045. Their union produced no children, and they are reported to have lived such ascetic lives that they even lived “as brother and sister.”
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