April 30, 2020

Saint Erconwald, Bishop of London (+ 693)

St. Erconwald of London (Feast Day - April 30)

Believed to be an early convert of the mission led by Saint Mellitus, Erconwald founded two monasteries on either side of the Thames, on the pattern that was later adopted by Saint Benedict Biscop, when he built the twin monasteries of Saint Peter in Monk Wearmouth and Saint Paul in Jarrow. The monastery Erconwald built at Chertsey in Surrey he presided over as Abbot, but the other, at Barking in Essex, he gave to his sister Saint Ethelburga, recalling Saint Hildelid from France to train her in the monastic way of life and to guide her in the governance of this double monastery of monks and nuns. His sister remained very close to him and later, when he was Bishop of London, used to accompany him on his journeys. Later, he was incapacitated by gout and had to be helped into a wheeled litter, the forerunner of the Bath-chair, and the remains of this was preserved in Old Saint Paul's Cathedral and, according to Saint Bede, was the source of miracles by the faithful who touched it or cut chips from it.

After the death of Saint Cedd, in the plague of 664, Erconwald, who was descended from the house of Uffa, the royal family of the East Angles, was recommended by King Sebbi, to Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury, as the new Bishop of London and extending over Essex and Middlesex. His ministry for the next eleven years was to be one of reconciliation. His diocese still contained some Britons who had remained, when the land was overrun by the Saxons, but the invaders were the predominant population. They had received the Christian faith first of all through the Roman clergy sent by Pope Gregory the Great, but it had been established by the monks from Lindisfarne under Saint Cedd, who were of the Celtic Church, so the see had a mixed tradition. Moreover, there was a certain amount of resistance to the reforms being introduced by Saint Theodore, and Erconwald had a share in healing the divisions in the English Church as a whole, for the quarrel between Wilfrid and Theodore was finally settled in Erconwald's house just before the Archbishop's death.

Bishop Erconwald's sanctity and peacemaking earned him an enduring place in the hearts of Londoners, and there are also many stories of miracles. A curious tale has been preserved of how, during the rebuilding of Saint Paul's, a coffin was discovered containing the body of a man wearing a crown and with a sceptre in his hand. There was no indication to whom this well preserved body belonged and, on the following day, Saint Erconwald performed a liturgy for him and then asked who he was. The corpse immediately replied that he had been a judge of the New Troy, the legendary name for London, and because he was so renowned for his exemplary judgements he had earned the name of King of the Judges. The bishop asked him where he was now, and the judge answered that, because he had died without baptism, he was denied entrance into the Eternal City. Saint Erconwald was so distressed by this that he began to weep saying how much he wished that he could have baptized him in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some of the tears fell upon the face of the righteous judge, and with a great cry of joy, he thanked the Saint for releasing him from his earthly state by the washing with tears in the Name of the Trinity, and straight away his body disintegrated into dust.

Saint Erconwald died at his sister's monastery at Barking on 30 April 693, and there was contention between the priests of Saint Paul's Cathedral and the monastics of Barking as to where he was to be buried. A great storm broke out, and there was flooding of the river, but then the sun broke through the clouds, seeming to point a golden path to the Cathedral. His body was interred in the crypt after it escaped the fire of 1087, but when the church was rebuilt in 1148 it was translated to a shrine behind the High Altar on November 14th. It was a favorite place of pilgrimage until the sixteenth century when the shrine was robbed of its jewels and ornaments, and the bones of the Saint are said to have been then buried at the east end of the choir. His feast day was kept on April 30th, the day of his death, with great splendor. November 14th was observed as the feast of the translation.