20 November 2018

Saint Bernward and Saint Éadmund

Holy Hierarch Bernward of Hildesheim

Today on the Orthodox New Calendar we commemorate a continental Saxon saint, Bernward, the bishop of Hildesheim; and an insular Saxon one, Éadmund King of East Anglia.

Born to Saxon eldern – Bishop Saint Bernward’s grandfather Adalbero was a comes palatinus of Sachsen from the Hessengau – he was orphaned early in life and was given into the care of his uncle Bishop Folkmar, who held the Bishopric of Utrecht founded by Saint Willibrord three hundred years before. Folkmar entrusted his education to a schoolmaster in Heidelberg named Dankmar, who saw to it that he was given thorough learning in letters and arts.

Young Bernward, however, was more interested in what we would now call the STEM subjects: the natural sciences, mathematics and the crafts – and in particular the smelting, forging and casting of metal. He was particularly drawn to the art of working precious metals into things of beauty for liturgical use: chalices, censers, crosses. After that, he completed his studies in Mainz and was ordained to the priesthood by Saint Willigis of Mainz. He was a favourite of the Byzantine Greek princess and Imperial consort Theofanō, and was made in quick succession a High Chaplain at the court at Nimwegen and subsequently a tutor to her young son, the future Otto III.

Saint Bernward served as a priest in Hildesheim for some while; his charge was not only to educate the future Emperor but also to strengthen the Saxon people in the Christian faith – they had been baptised, and none too agreeably, only 200 years before. Bernward took to this work – caring for the poor and the sick, and often literally building new walls and edifices: often defensive emplacements to ward against the Slavs who lived to the east of Saxony, but also against the piratical Normans who attacked the continental Saxons as eagerly as they would later attack the insular ones. When his young charge came of age and became Emperor in his own right, Bernward was quickly anointed as a bishop; and he accompanied the Emperor on many of his campaigns.

Saint Bernward loved to work with his hands, and loved the crafts that came from them; though not a poor tektōn by birth as Our Lord was, he was nevertheless a tektōn at heart, by preference. He founded a number of workshops and guilds in Hildesheim, through which the town became under his direction a great cultural hub for sculpture, painting, architecture, metalwork and bookbinding. A Benedictine by sympathy, he laid the cornerstone of what would become the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Michael, and also commissioned the famous Bernwardtür on the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Hildesheim, which feature a series of parallel wrought images of the Fall of Man in Adam and the Redemption of Man in Christ.

He joined the Benedictines himself, and met his blessed repose shortly after blessing the Monastery of Saint Michael. A great pre-Schismatic patron of the arts, Saint Bernward is today commemorated in both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, and he is considered in the Roman Catholic Church to be a patron of metalworkers. (As a machinist myself, I shall be sure to ask a few prayers to Christ our God from Saint Bernward of Hildesheim for good work and machines running true.)

20 November is also the feast-day of Éadmund, king of East Anglia and martyr of the Viking invasion of 869. Very little is known about the short reign of this young English king, or about his early life, to the point where his historicity is mostly witnessed by the coins minted under his reign. It is known that he acceded to the throne at the age of fourteen. Hagiographical accounts give Éadmund the cast of a righteous Germanic chieftain – trustworthy, even-handed, mistrustful of flattery – as well as of an observant Christian who could say the Psalter from memory.

It is also known that he was killed by the Danes when the Great Heathen Army landed on the English coast in 869, but Éadmund’s hagiographers are unclear about how. One source says that he faced them with his army and was slain in battle; another has it that he gave himself up without violence (as would the later Boris and Gleb in Rus’). A popular account given by Abbo of Fleury has it that the Danes captured him and brought him to Hoxne, where they beat him and bound him to the bole of a tree. When he cried aloud to Christ for strength, the Danes shot arrows into him and at last beheaded him. He was buried in a stead that thereafter became known as Bury St Edmunds, and a cultus quickly sprang up around his miraculous relics – but the shrine was sadly destroyed in the English Reformation. For a long while, he was the patron saint of all of England, though he was later replaced by Saint George.

Holy Hierarch Bernward and Holy Éadmund Martyr-King, pray to God for us!

Éadmund the Martyr-King

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