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November 20 Saints of the Day – Gregory the Decapolite and Edmund the Martyr

On this day in 1902, Geo Lefevre & Henri Desgrange created the Tour de France bicycle race. Unfortunately they created it in Brazil, but it was soon disassembled and shipped to France.

Gregory the DecapoliteGregory the Decapolite (d. ca. 816–820) was from the Decapolis (“Ten Cities”), an imaginatively-named administrative district of the Roman Empire in what is now Jordan. (“What should we call this district, your governorship?” “I dunno. How many cities are in it?”) He was a pious lad, loved to go to church, and “constantly read” the Scriptures. (Clearly dad didn’t make him get a job at DecArches.) When he found out his parents were planning to marry him off, he left home and began a life of wandering and preaching and wandering. He visited Rome, Corinth, and other backwaters, spent a while as a hermit on Olympus, and finally ended in the capital city with his buddy Joseph the Hymnographer, whom he met in Thessaloniki.

Together they preached against the iconoclasts, who were iconoclasting with fervor. Eventually Gregory’s preaching and iconoduling took its toll, and he fell sick and didn’t get back up again. His grave soon became a locus of miracles. Joe argued that Greg’s relics should be better accessible to pilgrims, so he moved them (the relics, not the pilgrims) (although those came too) to his own monastery, which he had named after his beloved mentor.

When Constantinople fell to the Turks in the year I shall not name, Gregory’s relics were moved by a Turkish official to somewhere on the Danube. They were moved again in 1498 by the Ban of Wallachia (that’s a guy) (or was) to the Bistritsa Monastery (in modern Romania). Needless to say I could find no mention of this fact outside of hagiographies of Gregory. I did, however, learn that the monastery “dates from more than six ages due to the powerful forests that surround it, facing all the troubles.” (Thinking of translating your website? Hire somebody fluent in the target language. Bit of free advice there.)

Edmund the MartyrEdmund the Martyr (841 –869) became king of the East Angles (mostly acute) in 855 (Norfolk) and 856 (Suffolk), at the age of 14 and 15, respectively. He ruled over his kingdom with Christian dignity and justice, which is unusual enough right there. He sought to emulate King David of Bible fame, and memorized the entirety of the ancient monarch’s little theological ditties — perhaps you’ve heard of them? But these good times could not last, and soon the Vikings began to raid the coasts, killing people and making picnics dangerous. (This was back when the Vikings were dangerous; Minnesotans can confirm that “dangerous” hardly describes the 2013 team.)

Previously an unorganized rabble of oarsmen and Völsungasaga singers (which is fun to say), Vikings from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden got together in 865, formed the Great Heathen Army (I didn’t make that up), and invaded England, starting (alas for Edmund) in East Anglia. From there they went on to York, London, Wessex, and just about everywhere, spreading their foul lutefisk and little butter cookies. And, of course, killing people. Edmund was in Hoxne at the time, hiding from the invaders under a bridge. His position was given away by a newly married couple who were crossing the bridge and saw his gold spurs. “Hey look! That must be the king!” they cried. Followed closely by, “Oops,” as the Danes captured Edmund and dragged him off to be killed. Legend says that Edmund cursed the bridge to bring bad juju (to use the technical term) on any newlywed couples crossing it. Let’s piously hope that’s just unfounded slander.

After refusing to renounce Christ, Edmund was tied to a tree and filled with arrows (“like a hedgehog!” one medieval hagiographer burbles), then beheaded. His head was tossed into the forest, but searchers later recovered it when they came upon a wolf guarding it and saying, “Hic! Hic! Hic!” (He wasn’t drunk; that’s Latin for “here.”) He (Edmund, not the wolf) was revered as a martyr soon after his death, and was buried in Bury St Edmunds (which doesn’t mean what it looks like) until Hank the Wifekiller dissolved the monasteries. Edmund is the patron saint, delightfully, of wolves.

Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History for 20th November
Venerable Gregory Decapolite (OCA)
Gregory the Decapolite (Orthodox Wiki)
Joseph the Hymnographer (Wikipedia)
Bistrița Monastery (Wikipedia)
Mănăstirea Bistrița (județul Neamț) (Romanian Wikipedia)
Bistrita Monastery
Icon of Gregory from Orthodox Wiki (copyright unknown)
Edmund the Martyr, King (St. Patrick DC) – Main source
Edmund the Martyr (Wikipedia)
Saint Edmund of East Anglia (SQPN)
Bury St Edmunds (Wikipedia)
Great Heathen Army (Wikipedia)
Medieval manuscript illumination (detail) of Edmund via Wikimedia (Public domain according to this rule).


About Your Intrepid Blogger

I live in the Tacoma area. When not writing things some people think are funny, I teach technology to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school.

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