March 8, 2021

Saint Felix of Burgundy, Bishop of Dunwich, Enlightener of East Anglia (+ 648)

St. Felix of Dunwich (Feast Day - Mrch 8)

Saint Felix, the Enlightener of East Anglia, was born in the Burgundy region of Gaul (now France). It was he who converted Sigebert (Sept. 27), King of East Anglia, while he was in exile in Gaul. He was forced to flee there, in order to save himself from the intrigues of his kinsmen.

When Saint Sigebert (or Sigerberht, which means "bright victory") was summoned home to claim his ancestral crown, he invited his spiritual father, Saint Felix, to leave Gaul to assist him in converting his idolatrous subjects to Christianity. Saint Felix was consecrated as Bishop of Dunwich in 631 by Archbishop Honorius of Canterbury (Sept. 30), who sent him to preach in East Anglia.

The new Bishop was quite successful in his ministry. After seventeen years he had converted almost the entire region. He established churches, monasteries, and a school for boys with the help of King Siegbert, and Saint Felix provided him with teachers from Canterbury. Because of this, some regard him as the founder of the University of Cambridge. Saint Felix also established schools at Felixstoe and at Flixton, or Felixton.

After two years, King Sigebert abdicated in favor of his cousin Egric, and entered the monastery at Cnobersburgh, now Burgh Castle in Suffolk, the monastery he had founded for Saint Fursey, or Fursa (Jan. 16), who had lived there for about ten years. In 642, after Saint Sigebert was killed in battle against King Penda of Mercia, Saint Fursey made a pilgrimage to Rome. Then he travelled to Gaul, where he established a monastery at Lagny-sur-Marne, near Paris, around the year 644.
Saint Felix reposed in 648 and was buried at Dunwich, but his relics were transferred to Ramsey Abbey in Huntingdonshire in 971. Saint Felix has given his name to Felixstowe in Suffolk, and to Felixkirk in Yorkshire.

He is mentioned by Saint Bede (History of the English Church and People, 2.15 and 3.18 and 20). Bede records the success of Felix's work in East Anglia, known for his great piety and hard work, as both a missionary and educator, Felix, in Bede's words "delivered" East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness. As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people. In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced." He continues: "He [Saint Felix] did not fail in his purpose and like a good farmer reaped a rich harvest of believers. He delivered the entire province from its age-old wickedness and infelicity and brought it to the Christian faith and works of righteousness, and in full accord with the significance of his own name, guided it towards eternal felicity".

Dunwich was once a large city, with fifty-two churches, but was gradually swallowed up by the sea in the fourteenth century. The remains of the steeples may still be seen, underwater, about five miles from shore. 

The mortal remains of St. Felix were later exhumed from Dunwich and brought to Soham monastery which he had founded. This was a precautionary measure for fear that heathen flames would take possession of them. In King Canute's time, about 1031 A.D. the relic was removed a second time for the same reason by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan. While the relic was being carried across the water a miracle is said to have happened. A chronicler at Soham or Ramsey wrote:

"In those days [circa 1020] St. Felix, formerly Bishop of East Anglia lay buried in the royal manor of Soham for at this place the saint while still alive had built and dedicated a beautiful church and gathered together a goodly company of monks. These monks subsequently, after their good father was dead . . . carried away his precious remains from Dunwich and laid them with great honour in their own church at Soham. Afterwards, however, when this same church (or monastery) had been utterly destroyed and the monks killed by the Danes, this saintly man had met with less reverence and honour. This continued up to the time of King Canute, when Etheric, hearing of it, pointed out to Abbot Athelstan and the monks of Ramsey how, by the expenditure of a little labour, they might win for themselves inexhaustible riches and so urged them by the spur of self interest to carry out his purpose.

Athelstan therefore taking with him Agerinus, his prior, set out by water for Soham which possessed the relic of such value, and overawing by the combined authority of the King and bishop the resistance of those who were for opposing him, he placed the sacred remains and bones of the saint on board and began his voyage homeward to Ramsey amid the strains of joyous psalmody. The men of Ely, however, on hearing of this, grudging us so valuable a relic, manned their boats with a strong band, hoping by their large numbers to carry off from the smaller party the remains which they had removed from Soham.

In order that it might be clearly seen that the removal was taking place by Divine than by human wishes, it came to pass that just as the ships of either party were approaching one another under a bright and cloudless sky, suddenly, to the discomfiture of the large force and the benefit of the smaller, a dense fog arose which separated the two parties. And so, while their adversaries were vainly wandering in different directions, our boat was carried onward in a straight course and safely deposited by the aiding waters on the bosom of our native shore.

You may find it hard to believe this miracle ... yet, reader, you are compelled to suspect it by no necessity as long as you are at all events convinced of the undoubted fact that the remains of St. Felix were, on King Canute's yielding to the prayers of Bishop Etheric, transferred from the aforesaid town of Soham to the church at Ramsey and reburied with great reverence; and there, even to this day, does that holy man bestow on worshippers many benefits. If you desire further to learn anything of his origin, his life or his good deeds, you must consult Bede who has composed a history of the English in admirable style, and among other men of the highest sanctity whom he there commends, has deemed the praise of our saint worthy of praise."

Kontakion in the Second Tone
O Hierarch Felix, divine thunder, spiritual trumpet, planter of faith and pruner of heresies, great favorite of the Trinity, while standing with the Angels before God, pray unceasingly for us all.