St Edmund and the Wolf
St Edmund is closely connected with Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk.
In 1095 an Abbey was built as the centre of worship and devotion and remained a primary witness to God inspired by St. Edmund himself. Here his remains were venerated until Henry VIII dissolved the monastery, when Edmund’s remains were taken to France. They now rest in a chapel in Arundel Castle.
Edmund’s story, however, leads us to Hunstanton in Norfolk.
When King Aethelweard of East Anglia died in AD855 he was the last of the Royal House of East Anglia, so his subjects sent word to their homeland of Angeln for a successor. A distant cousin named Edmund arrived, at what is now known as St. Edmunds Point in Hunstanton, to claim his kingdom. Since then Hunstanton has had a long and close association with St Edmund.
The story goes that Edmund later entered into battle against the Vikings, led by Ivarr the Boneless. The two armies fought somewhere near Diss. Edmund’s forces were defeated. The Vikings demanded that Edmund renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. When he refused they were merciless with him. They tortured him and eventually tied him to a tree where the archers used him as target practice. Finally, they beheaded him.
This is where the wolf comes into the story.
It is said that the Vikings discarded his head in the woodlands. Edmund’s followers later recovered his body but the head was missing.
Eventually they found it, guarded by a wolf which attracted the followers with his cry. Edmund’s head lay between its paws safe and untouched by all the forest animals.
So the wolf entered into the folk lore of St. Edmund.
I discovered this on a recent visit to Hunstanton were I came across the vestiges of a ruined chapel dedicated to him. There is very little left of that chapel but nearby is a statue of a wolf (see photo above), a reminder of the story and of how, quite often, the animal kingdom is kinder to holy men and women than humans are.
whose servant Edmund kept faith to the end,
both with you and with his people,
and glorified you by his death:
grant us such steadfastness of faith
that, with the noble army of martyrs,
we may come to enjoy the fullness of the resurrection life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
photo: Mr. G