Edmund was crowned
King of the East Angles in about 855AD. Fourteen years later, in 869,
according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, he attempted to repel a huge invasion
by the Danish Vikings who had camped at Thetford. King Edmund’s
army was comprehensively defeated and the invaders, led by Hinguar and
Habba, proceeded to occupy the whole of the North and East of England
from Northumbria down.
Edmund was killed - exactly how and when is not known for certain, but
the legend that evolved and which was recorded a century later by Abbo
of Fleury in his Life of St Edmund, tells of his capture, torture, execution
and martyrdom. Edmund, writes Abbo, was taken prisoner, whipped and tied
to a tree. When he persistently refused to renounce his faith he was shot
with bows and arrows 'until he bristled like a hedgehog’. He was
then beheaded and his head was thrown into a bramble patch.
Later his loyal supporters set about looking for the missing head and
were alerted to its hiding place by the sound of Edmund’s own voice
calling: “Over here, over here, over here!” They found the
head guarded by a wolf.
The body of the king, reunited with its head, was eventually buried, according
to legend, in a little purpose-built chapel at Bedericsworth (later Bury
Stories abound of miracles associated with St Edmund, not least the legend
that, when his body was exhumed after a fire more than 300 centuries after
his death, it was found to be uncorrupted, with all the arrow wounds healed
and the head reattached to the body with just a thin red line indicating
the site of its severance.
The date of St Edmund’s canonization is not known for certain although
one account has it that it occurred in the reign of Athelstan between
924 and 939 AD. The shrine at his burial site became a huge draw for pilgrims.
Churches dedicated to St Edmund exist throughout England and his feast
day, November 20, has been widely celebrated over the intervening centuries.
In Southwold, the practice of celebrating the Saint’s day by issuing
sticky buns to the town’s schoolchildren is an ancient one. Perhaps
the bun is meant as a symbolic reminder of the miraculous head! This ancient
tradition died out after the Second War but was revived in 1988 and continues
to this day.
'Sticky Bun' Day at St Edmund's Church, Southwold,
filmed by Barrett Jenkins on November 20th 1929