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Edmund Rich

Edmund Rich, also known as Saint Edmund or Eadmund of Canterbury, was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1234.

He was born at Abingdon (7 miles south of Oxford, England), circa 1175, and died at Soisy-en-Brie (75 miles south-east of Paris), France, November 16, 1240 or 1242.

He studied at the universities of Oxford and Paris and became a teacher about 1200, or a little earlier. For six years he lectured on mathematics and dialectics, apparently dividing his time between Oxford and Paris, and winning distinction for his part in introducing the study of Aristotle. Through the influence of a pious mother he had led from boyhood a life of self-denial and austerity; and it is not surprising that he tired of secular subjects and went over to theology.

Though for some time he resisted the change, he finally entered upon his new career between 1205 and 1210. He received ordination, took a doctorate in divinity, and soon won fame as a lecturer on theology and as an extemporaneous preacher. After expounding the "Lord's Law" for a number of years, Edmund became disgusted with scholasticism and gave up his chair at Oxford. Ironically, after his death and canonisation, an academic Hall was founded in his name at the site where he taught. St Edmund Hall, Oxford, remains the last of the University's medieval Halls.

Some time between 1219 and 1222 he was appointed treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, and held this position for eleven years, during which time he also engaged in preaching. In 1227, at the bidding of Pope Innocent III, he preached the sixth crusade through a large part of England.

In 1233 came the news of his appointment, by Pope Gregory IX, to the archbishopric of Canterbury. The chapter had already made three selections which the pope had declined to confirm, and Edmund's name had been proposed as a compromise by Gregory, perhaps on account of his work for the crusade, and he was consecrated Apr. 2, 1234.

Before his consecration he allied himself with the national party, whose object was to make the kingdom independent, maintain the Great Charter and exclude foreigners from civil and ecclesiastical office, and in the name of his fellow bishops he admonished King Henry III of England at Westminster, February 2, 1234, to take warning of his father, King John. A week after his consecration he again appeared before the king with the barons and bishops, this time threatening his sovereign with excommunication, if he refused to dismiss his councilors, particularly Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester. This threat was sufficient. The objectionable favorites were dismissed; and soon the archbishop was sent to Wales to negotiate peace with Prince Llywelyn the Great.

In 1237, in order to destroy the authority of Edmund, Henry induced the pope to send Cardinal Otto as legate to England. Through numerous disputes with bishops and monks, not to speak of the rupture with the king, and the excommunication of Simon de Montfort and his bride, Edmund had already made his position a difficult one.

As the champion of the national Church against the claims of Rome he now found himself arrayed against the pope. In Dec., 1237, he set out for Rome, hoping to enlist the pope on the side of ecclesiastical reform. From this futile mission he returned to England in Aug., 1238, to find himself reduced to a cipher. If he excommunicated his monks, they appealed to Rome and paid no attention to his interdict. Finding himself foiled at every turn he finally submitted to the papal demands; and early in 1240, hoping to win his cause against his monks, he paid to the pope's agents one fifth of his revenue, which had been levied for the pope's war against Emperor Frederick II. Other English prelates followed his example.

Then came the demand that 300 English benefices should be assigned to as many Romans. This attack upon the rights of the national Church was more than Edmund could endure. In the summer of 1240, broken in spirit, he retired to the abbey of Pontigny, France, which had been the refuge of his predecessors, St. Thomas and Stephen Langton. A few months later he died at the priory of Soisy. In less than a year after his death miracles were alleged to be wrought at his grave. However, he was not canonised until Henry III lifted his objections in 1247.

Edmund is one of the most attractive figures of medieval history. His life was one of self-sacrifice and devotion to others. From boyhood he practised asceticism; and throughout his life he wore sackcloth next his skin, pressed against his body by metal plates. After snatching a few hours' sleep without removing his clothing, he usually spent the rest of the night in prayer and meditation.

Besides his "Constitutions," issued in 1236 (printed in W. Lynwood's Constitutiones Angliae, Oxford, 1679), he wrote Speculum ecclesiae (London, 1521; Eng. transl., 1527; reprinted in M. de la Bigne's Bibliotheca veterum patrum, v., Paris, 1609).