We live in a small city steeped in Christian history. This week we celebrate two saints associated with Canterbury. Today is the feast of Ælfheah (c. 953 – 19 April 1012), commonly known as Alphege and on Wednesday we have the feast of St Anselm.
Alphege became an anchorite before being elected abbot of Bath Abbey. His reputation for piety and sanctity led to his promotion to the episcopate and, eventually, to his becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1005.
At this time England was continually under attack from the pagan Vikings. By 1011 AD, the Danes had conquered much of southern England, and in September that year turned their attention to Canterbury. They plundered the city, burnt the cathedral and took many local inhabitants to be sold as slaves or (as in the case of Alphege) to be held to ransom.
Taken by ship to Greenwich, Alphege declared that his ransom was too high and not to be paid. During a drunken revel on 19 April 1012, the Danes pelted Alphege with ox bones, and finally with an axe head, which left him dead.
The site of the martyrdom was traditionally the place on which Greenwich Church now stands. He became a saint in 1078, despite some doubts whether he had actually died for his faith or died to avoid a ransom payment. St Thomas Becket prayed to him in 1170 just before his own murder.
If you visit the Cathedral when it re-opens you can see the stone marking his burial place beside the High Altar. There is also a stained glass in the north aisle of the choir depicting his removal and murder by the Danes which is the earliest depiction in England of warfare in stained glass.
God, who adorned your loyal confessor Alphege
with the dignity of priesthood and the palm of martyrdom,
grant us this boon, that with his aid in pleading our cause before you,
we may be enabled to rejoice with him in everlasting bliss.
We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.