Friday, July 8, 2016

Blessed Eugene III & St. Edgar the Peaceful

Today's Benedictine is Blessed Eugene III, pope, and the historical saint of the day is St. Edgar, king of England. These biographies are combinations of bios from several different internet sources, jumbled together to offer an attempt at a complete story.

Blessed Eugene (aka Eugenius) III was born near Pisa, Italy, in the twelfth century. He was baptized Peter. St. Antoninus, whose feast day is May 10, called Pope Eugene “a great pope with great sufferings.”

Pope Eugene had been Father Peter, a priest in Pisa, when he felt the call to become a Cistercian monk. He went to Clairvaux, France, and joined the monks there. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was the superior. His feast day is August 20. Peter chose “Bernard” for his religious name. He did this because of his great esteem for St. Bernard.

St. Bernard sent his namesake, Bernard, to become the superior of a monastery in Rome. Pope Lucius II died in 1145. That is when a most unusual thing happened. The cardinals elected Abbot Bernard to be pope. The abbot was not at the meeting because he was not a cardinal. He was shocked. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was surprised too. He felt sorry for Bernard. He wrote an open letter to the cardinals: “May God forgive you for what you have done,” he said. “You have involved in responsibilities and placed among many people a man who fled them both.”

Bernard chose to be called Eugene III. His time as pope brought him many difficulties. The Roman senate threatened to oppose him if he did not let them keep stolen property. A man who had been previously excommunicated went to Pope Eugene and asked forgiveness. Soon after, he fell back into his old ways. He even joined a faction that was directly against the pope. Pope Eugene had to leave Rome a few times because of the dangers surrounding him. When this happened, he would find peace and strength at a monastery. Then he would have the courage to go back and face his difficult task again. He wore his Cistercian habit and lived simply. No matter how hectic his life was, he always had the heart of a monk. One of his fellow monks wrote to St. Bernard of Clairvaux about Pope Eugene: “There is no arrogance or domineering way in him.”

During nearly the whole of his pontificate, Eugene III was unable to reside in Rome. Hardly had he left the city to be consecrated in the monastery of Farfa, when the citizens, under the influence of Arnold of Brescia, the great opponent of the Pope's temporal power, established the old Roman constitution, the Commune of Rome and elected Giordano Pierleoni to be Patrician.

Eugene sent Nicholas Breakspear (later Adrian IV) to Scandinavia to reorganize the church there. Eugene III held synods in northern Europe at Paris, Rheims, and Trier in 1147 and 1149 that were devoted to the reform of clerical life. He also considered and approved the works of Hildegard of Bingen.

Eugenius, like others of western Europe, was shocked by the fall of Edessa, the capital of the first crusader state, in 1144. While in France (1147) he urged King Louis VII the Young to lead a crusade for the liberation of Edessa, naming Bernard as its preacher. The Second Crusade, most impressive of all in scope, ended in failure.

Eugenius returned to Italy in June 1148 and in July excommunicated Arnold, who denounced Eugenius as “a man of blood” and spread the revolt against him. Away from Rome under its hostile new Senate during much of his reign, Eugenius held many councils. He concluded the Treaty of Constance (1153) with the Holy Roman emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, fixing conditions for his imperial coronation, but the Pope died before Frederick could come to Italy.

Pope Eugene died on July 8, 1153 and was beatified in 1872 by Pope Pius IX on the account of his sanctity.

Edgar of Wessex was born circa 942, the second son of Edmund the Elder Saint Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. He was sixteen when he ascended the throne on the death of his elder brother, Edwy in October 959.

In common with his brother Edwy and others of his predecessors in the House of Wessex, Edgar was a very small man, recorded as being less than five feet tall, although possessing great personal magnetism. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes him as being handsome and speaks highly of his achievements.

Edgar had been educated by Ethelwald, Abbot of Abingdon, a friend of St. Dunstan's. His coronation, which took place at Bath in 973, was the first to be described in detail in the annals of English history and on this ceremony, all future coronations of English Kings, up to the present day, have been based. King Edgar maintained the peace established by earlier kings of the House of Wessex.

Following his coronation, Edgar travelled north to Chester, where he held court in a palace in a place now known as Edgar's field near the old Dee bridge in Handbridge. There he was met by eight sub-Kings of Britain whom he had summoned. Among them was Kenneth, King of Scots and his son Malcolm, King of the Cumbrians, Maccus, king of several isles and five others, named Dufnall, Siferth, Huwall, Jacob and Juchill. In a demonstration of the power of Wessex, Edgar was rowed up the River Dee to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist, by all eight sub-Kings, attended by a great concourse of nobles. The entire occasion represented an assertion of Saxon supremacy over the Celts of England, Scotland and Wales. Most historians today, however, doubt this event ever took place, or if it did, the rowers were either not kings, or were indeed kings, but did not engage in this activity as a symbol of subjugation.

Edgar the Peaceful married twice, his first wife, Elfleda was divorced to enable him to marry Elfrida, daughter of Ordgar, ealdorman of Devon and Edgar's mistress, she was the widow of Ethelwald, Ealdorman of East Anglia and a woman of notorious reputation. She was said to have been the King's lover before the death of her first husband.

He reputedly killed Earl Ethelwald, his rival for Elfrida's affections, in 963, near present-day Longparish, Hampshire, after Ethelwold advised the king against marrying the beautiful Elfrida, but then married her himself. The event was commemorated in 1825 by the erection of Dead Man's Plack. Edgar had Elfrida crowned Queen at Bath Abbey on 11th May, 975. The first instance of a consort being referred to as Queen since Judith of France, widow of Ethelwulf and his son Ethelbald.

In a popular move, Edgar recalled St Dunstan (pictured right) from exile, who returned in triumph and was appointed Bishop of Worcester, in 959 he became Bishop of London, before Edgar finally made him Archbishop of Canterbury in 961.

Dunstan managed to exert some control over the King's policies. Acting on the advice of Dunstan, Edgar raised his companion Oswald to be Bishop of Worcester. Another friend of Dunstan's, Edgar's former tutor, Ethelwald of Abingdon, was made Bishop of Winchester. This trio were to dominate the English church for the remainder of the King's reign, which brought forth a great religious revival throughout his kingdom.

Edgar had many mistresses, one of these was the beautiful Wulfrida, whom he carried off from Wilton Abbey, it is unsure if she had actually taken her vows as a nun. For this the King was forced to do pennance for seven years, purportedly having to fast twice a week. He had 4 children in all, by his first wife Ethelflaed, he had two sons, the eldest Edward, succeeded him as King of England, and Edmund. An illegitimate daughter, Edith or Eadgyth, born to by Wilfrida, was educated at Wilton Abbey and was cannonised after her death in 984. A third son, born to Queen Elfthryth suceeded his half-brother Edward as Ethelred II.

William of Malmesbury, reporting on Edgar's slightness of height and build, records that at a banquet that followed the meeting at Chester, Kenneth, King of Scots, commented jokingly that it seemed extraordinary to him how so many provinces should be held by "such a sorry little fellow."

Under Edgar, the union of England under one dynasty was firmly established. Highly conscious of the importance of sea-power, the king had built up a navy of 3,600 ships by the time of his death, which were used to guard England's shores from the incursions of the Danes.

King Edgar kept peace in the Danelaw largely by a policy of non-interference and displayed his neutrality by ravaging the Saxons of Thanet for alleged ill-treatment of York merchants.

The years of peace enjoyed by Edgar made it possible for him to make changes in England's administrative structure and it was Edgar who divided England into shires, each of which were divided into hundreds. His laws were much respected by future generations, he greatly encouraged trade and protected the currency. He was severe on those that withheld church dues and a great believer of monastic reform.

King Edgar the Peaceful, or the Pacific as he is sometimes referred to, died at the summit of his power, at Winchester, the ancient capital of Wessex, on 8th July, 975, at the age of only thirty-three and was buried at Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset.

That Edgar is canonized at all is perhaps his greatest miracle, given his domestic relations.