St Edmund of Abingdon
Proudly displayed in the entrance hall at St Edmund’s is a wood carving of Edmund of Abingdon, this is who our school is named after. We can tell something about the person Edmund was from this carving. What is he wearing? What is he holding? What clues do these things give us about the person of St Edmund?
Edmund is known as Edmund of Abingdon because he was born in Abingdon, near Oxford, in 1175. He was the eldest child of Reginald, a rope maker, and Mabel. When Mabel was pregnant, she and her husband visited the shrine of King Edmund the Martyr. This was when Mabel felt her baby kick for the first time! Edmund’s parents decided that if their baby was a boy, they would call him Edmund. Edmund was born on the feast day of King Edmund the Martyr, 20th November. Edmund had a brother, Robert, and two sisters, Margaret and Alice, who became nuns at Catesby in Northamptonshire. Edmund’s dad was known as Reginald “Rich”. He was given this nickname because he was a well off tradesman. But Edmund didn’t inherit his father’s nickname as a surname. St Edmund was known as Edmund of Abingdon during his life, he was never called Edmund Rich, but he is still sometimes mistakenly called St Edmund Rich!
When he was about sixteen, Edmund’s mum sent him, with his brother Robert, to university in Paris. Mabel was a strong influence in Edmund’s life and taught him to pray. She died in 1198 when Edmund was 23. He came home from Paris and was with his mum when she died. It seems that his dad wasn’t around at this time, perhaps he had already died. After his mum had died, Edmund went back to Paris and finished his studies. When he came home to England, he taught Latin and Maths at Oxford University. There were about 1500 students at Oxford then. Edmund taught for six years, and then he had a dream about his mother, which he interpreted as a message to turn to more serious studies. So Edmund went back to Paris and studied theology. He came back to England around 1214, became a Priest, and taught Theology at Oxford. Edmund taught his students: “Study as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow”. When the students at St Edmund’s helped to write the school Mission Statement in 2015, they included this teaching from St Edmund.
Edmund used to stay up late, praying, and then fall asleep when he was supposed to be teaching. When he woke up he would tell his students he hadn’t been sleeping – just thinking! But Edmund also said that five words well said are better than five thousand said without devotion. Edmund didn’t take money from poor students, and when better off students used to come to pay their lecture fees he would ask them to leave the money on the windowsill, so that no-one would be embarrassed if it wasn’t the right amount. Edmund used the money he earned to pay for the building of the Lady Chapel at St Peter’s in Oxford. In 1233 he was made Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral and given the job of raising money to complete the part of the Cathedral called the choir.
Edmund is known as a peacemaker. In 1233, England was on the verge of a civil war. When King Henry III brought in a foreign army to crush the rebellious barons, Edmund went to confront the King and plead for peace. The King had not listened to his advisers, but he listened to Edmund, and a civil war was avoided. In 1234 Pope Gregory IX made Edmund Archbishop of Canterbury.
Our school badge is based on St Edmund’s Coat of Arms. Coats of Arms tell us about the person they belong to. Most Bishops, including the Pope, have their own personal Coat of Arms. Originally a Coat of Arms was used to mark documents and to identify people.
On the left side of St Edmund’s Coat of Arms is a picture of a Y shaped pallium, this is made from lamb’s wool and worn around the Archbishop’s neck over his vestments. This garment identifies the person wearing it as an Archbishop. The three suns on the right hand side of Edmund’s Coat of Arms show us what is most important to him: the Holy Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a story about the dream Edmund had had about his mum, which made him decide to go back to Paris to study Theology, and then become a priest. The story goes that one night Edmund dreamt that he was about to give a lecture and had filled the blackboard with geometrical figures. Suddenly his mother appeared. “Son, what are these things on the blackboard?” she asked. “I’m lecturing on geometry, Mother,” he replied and started telling her what each figure meant. Shaking her head, his mother picked up the chalk and drew three circles on the board. She pointed to each one in turn, saying, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Son, please study these figures from now on, and no others!” Perhaps the story is true, and that is why St Edmund chose three round sun shapes for his Coat of Arms. Our school badge depicts these three suns. On the school tie there is a Bishop’s mitre (hat) above the shield, which is another symbol showing Edmund was an Archbishop.
Edmund died on 16th November 1240. At school, we celebrate St Edmund’s Day every year on this Feast Day.
Edmund’s name lives on, not only here at St Edmund’s School in Dover, but at other Educational establishments. Did you know that Oxford University’s St Edmund Hall is named after St Edmund, because Edmund of Abingdon lived and taught on the site? St Edmund Hall is also sometimes known as Teddy Hall. St Edmund was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to go to Oxford University.
St Edmund was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1246 at a special Mass.