November 20 – Gregory the Decapolite; Edmund the Martyr

Gregory 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 his dad didn’t make him get a job at DecArches.) When learned his parents planned to marry him off, he left home for a life of wandering, preaching, and wandering. He visited Rome, Corinth, and other backwaters, spent time as a hermit on Olympus, and finally ended in the capital city with his buddy Joseph the Hymnographer (Apr 4), whom he had met in Thessaloniki.

Together they preached against the iconoclasts, who were iconoclasting like gangbusters. Eventually Gregory’s preaching took its toll, and he fell sick and didn’t get back up again. His grave quickly became a locus of miracles. Arguing that Greg’s relics should be better accessible to pilgrims, Joe 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, and I quote, “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 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 all of the ancient monarch’s little ditties (perhaps you’ve heard of them?). But good times never last, and soon the Vikings began to raid the coasts, killing people and making picnics dangerous. (This was back when the Vikings were dangerous; ask Minnesotans when was the last time that could be truly said.)

Previously an unorganized rabble of oarsmen and Völsungasaga singers (which is fun to say), Vikings from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden conjointly formed the Great Heathen Army (I didn’t make that up) in 865, 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. Oh, and 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 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.