Sunday, April 30, 2017

Saint Erkenwald, Bishop of London, Abbot of Chertsey, England

Born in East Anglia; died at Barking, April 30, c. 686-693 AD; second feast day on May 13. Erconwald is reputed to have been of royal blood, son of Annas or Offa. In 675 AD, Saint Theodore of Canterbury appointed Erconwald bishop of the East Saxons with his see in London and extending over Essex and Middlesex. His episcopate was the most important in that diocese between that of Saint Mellitus and Saint Dunstan.
His ministry for the next eleven years was to be one of reconciliation. His diocese still contained some Britons who had remained, when the land was overrun by the Saxons, but the invaders were the predominant population. They had received the Christian Faith first of all through the Roman clergy sent by St. Gregory, but it had been established by the monks from Lindisfarne under St. Cedd, who were of the Celtic Church, so the see had a mixed tradition. Moreover, there was a certain amount of resistance to the reforms being introduced by St. Theodore, and Erconwald had a share in healing the divisions in the English Church as a whole, for the quarrel between Wilfrid and Theodore was finally settled in Erconwald's house just before the Archbishop's death.

St. Erconwald's sanctity and peacemaking earned him an enduring place in the hearts of Londoners, and there are also many stories of miracles. A curious tale has been preserved of how, during the rebuilding of St Paul's, a coffin was discovered containing the body of a man wearing a crown and with a sceptre in his hand. There was no indication to whom this well preserved body belonged and, on the following day, St. Erconwald said mass for him and then asked who he was. The corpse immediately replied that he had been a judge of the New Troy, the legendary name for London, and because he was so renowned for his exemplary judgements he had earned the name of King of the Judges. The bishop asked him where he was now, and the judge answered that, because he had died without baptism, he was denied entrance into the Eternal City. St. Erconwald was so distressed by this that he began to weep saying how much he wished that he could have baptised him in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Some of the tears fell upon the face of the righteous judge, and with a great cry of joy, he thanked the saint for releasing him from his earthly state by the washing with tears in the Name of the Trinity, and straight away his body disintegrated into dust.
His shrine in Saint Paul's Cathedral was a much visited pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages, where miracles were reported until the 16th century, but little is known of his life except that he founded a monastery at Chertsey in Surrey, which he governed, and a convent at Barking in Essex to which he appointed as abbess his sister, Ethelburga. In Saint Bede's time, miracles were recorded as a result of touching the couch used by Erconwald in his later years. At his death, Erconwald's relics were claimed by Barking, Chertsey, and London; he was finally buried in Saint Paul's Cathedral in London, which he had enlarged. The relics escaped the fire of 1087 and were placed in the crypt. November 14, 1148, they were translated to a new shrine behind the high altar, from where they were again moved on February 1, 1326.
Erconwald is portrayed in art as a bishop in a small 'chariot' (the Saxon equivalent of a bath chair) in which he travelled because of his gout. Sometimes there is a woman touching it or he may be shown with Saint Ethelburga of Barking (Roeder). Erconwald is invoked against gout (Roeder).[1]