Saint of the Day – 19 April – St Alphege (c953-1012) also known as St Alphege of Winchester/Canterbury/Bath – MARTYR and Bishop, Monk, Hermit, Abbot, educator, apostle of charity – his body is incorrupt. Patron of Greenwich, England, kidnap victims, Solihull, England. Attributes – bishop holding an axe, bishop with an axe in his head, carrying stones in his chasuble.
Alphege was born in 953 and became a monk at the Deerhurst Monastery of Gloucester, England. After a few years, he asked to become a hermit, received permission and retired to a small hut near Somerset, England. In 984, Alphege moved to Bath and became abbot at abbey founded by St. Dunstan. Many of Alpege’s companions from Somerset joined him at Bath. In that same year, Alphege was appointed bishop of Winchester and served there for two decades.
He was famed for his care of the poor and for his own austere life. King Aethelred the Unready used his abilities in 994, sending him to mediate with invading Danes. The Danish chieftain Anlaf converted to Christianity as a result of his meetings with Alphege, although he and the other chief, Swein, demanded tribute from the Anglo-Saxons of the region. Anlaf vowed never to lead his troops against Britain again. In 1005 Alphege became the successor to Aleric as the archbishop of Canterbury, receiving the pallium in Rome from Pope John XVIII. He returned to England in time to be captured by the Danes pillaging the southern regions. The Danes besieged Canterbury and took Alphege captive. The ransom for his release was about three thousand pounds and went unpaid. Alphege refused to give the Danes that much, an act which infuriated them. He was hit with an ax and then beaten to death.
Revered as a martyr, Alphege’s remains were placed in St. Paul’s Church in London. The body, moved to Canterbury in 1023, was discovered to be incorrupt in 1105. Relics of St. Alphege are also in Bath, Glastonbury, Ramsey, Reading, Durham, Yorkminster and in Westminster Abbey. He was canonised by St Pope Gregory VII in 1078.
St Thomas a Becket himself endorsed a parallel between himself and the Anglo-Saxon martyr, when he spoke about Alphege in the sermon he preached on Christmas Day 1170, four days before his own martyrdom: “You already have a martyr here,” he said, “Alphege, beloved of God, a true saint. The Divine Mercy will provide another for you; it will not delay.”