Home  »  Volume IV: April  »  St. Erkonwald, Bishop of London, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume IV: April. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

April 30

St. Erkonwald, Bishop of London, Confessor

HE was a prince of the royal blood, son of Annas, the holy king of the East-Angles, or, as some say, of a certain prince named Offa. The better to disengage himself from the ties and incumbrances of the world, he forsook his own country, and retired into the kingdom of the East-Saxons, where he employed his large estate in founding two great monasteries, one at Chertsey, in Surrey, near the Thames, 1 the other for nuns, at Barking in Essex; 2 of this latter he appointed his sister Edilburga abbess. The former he governed with great sanctity, till he was forced out of his dear solitude by King Sebba, in 675, and consecrated bishop of London by St. Theodorus. He much augmented the buildings and revenues of St. Paul’s, and obtained for that church great privileges from the king. Dugdale, in his history of that cathedral, proves that it had originally been a temple of Diana, from many heads of oxen dug up when the east part of it was rebuilt, and from the structure of the chambers of Diana, near that place. Bede bears witness that God honoured St. Erkonwald with a great gift of miracles, and that his horse-litter, or chips cut off from it, cured distempers to his own time: and his sanctity has been most renowned through all succeeding ages. He sat eleven years, according to his old epitaph, which Mr. Weever has preserved. 3 His tomb in the cathedral of St. Paul’s was famous for frequent miracles, as is mentioned by Bede, Malmesbury, &c. His body was removed from the middle of the church, by a solemn translation, on the 14th of November, in 1148, 4 and deposited above the high altar, on the east wall. Dugdale 5 describes the riches and numerous oblations which adorned his shrine, and laments 6 that they had lately seen the destruction of this magnificent church, which was the glory of our nation; the monuments of so many famous men torn to pieces, and their bones and dust pulled out of their graves. In which barbarous search the body of the holy King Sebba was found embalmed with perfumes, and clothed with rich robes: also several bishops in their proper habits. But, says that diligent author, I could never hear that they found more than a ring or two with rubies, and a chalice of no great value. He adds: Under part of the choir was the subterraneous parish church of St. Faith, called S. Fides in Cryptis. At the change of religion, the body of St. Erkonwald disappeared, in 1533, says Weever. 7 F. Jerom Porter, in his lives of the English saints, testifies, that it was then buried at the upper end of the choir, near the wall. No mention is made of it in any accounts since the new fabric was erected. See Wharton, Hist. Episcoporum Londin, p. 16; and Maitland, Hist. of London, b. 2, p. 486; also the notes of Papebroke upon the life of St. Erkonwald in Capgrave, Apr. t. 3, p. 780; and Leland, Collect. t. 1, p. 22 and 23.  1
Note 1. Chertsey (anciently Ceortesei) monastery was founded by St. Erkonwald, about the year 666. The abbot and ninety monks being killed, and the abbey burnt to the ground, during the Danish wars, it was refounded by King Edgar and Bishop Ethelwold, to the honour of St. Peter. At the dissolution, it was valued, according to Speed, at £744 13s. 4d. per ann. See Monast. Anglic, t. 1, p. 75, and Bishop Tanner, Notit. Monastica, p. 534. [back]
Note 2. Barking nunnery was founded by the same saint, in 675, or, according to the Chertsey-book, in 666; but was not the first nunnery in England, as Weever, Dugdale, (in Warwicks, p. 1077,) and Newcourt assert; for that of Folkestone in Kent was founded in 630 by Eadbald, king of Kent, and his daughter, St. Eanswithe, was made first abbess, as Bishop Tanner takes notice. Barking nunnery was valued at the dissolution at £1084 per annum, which would be now eight times as much. Those authors are mistaken, who call Barking the richest nunnery in England, those of Sion and Shaftsbury being much richer. [back]
Note 3. Funeral Monuments. [back]
Note 4. See Hearne, note on Robert of Gloucester’s Chronicle, t. 2, p. 467. [back]
Note 5. History of the cathedral of St. Paul’s, pp. 22, 23, 24. [back]
Note 6. Ib. p. 51. [back]
Note 7. P. 359. [back]