Ælfheah of Canterbury  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Saint Alphege is the commonly used named for Ælfheah (954 - 19 April 1012), the Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester and, later, Archbishop of Canterbury.



Alphege was born in Weston in Somerset, of a noble family, but in early life gave up everything to devote himself to his faith. Having assumed the monastic habit in the monastery of Deerhurst, he passed thence to Bath, where he became an anchorite and ultimately abbot of the abbey there, distinguishing himself by his piety and the austerity of his life. In 984, he was appointed, through Dunstan's influence, to the Bishopric of Winchester and, in 1006, he succeeded Aelfric as Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the sack of Canterbury by the Danes in 1011, Alphege was captured and kept in prison for seven months. Refusing to allow a ransom to be paid, he was murdered at Greenwich, London, reputedly on the site of St Alfege's Church there, on 19 April 1012.


An account of his death appears in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
. . . for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop . . . on the eve of the Sunday after Easter . . . They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God.

Some sources record the final blow, with the back of an axe, being dealt by one Thrum as an act of kindness by a Christian convert. He was buried in St Paul's Cathedral, whence his body was removed by King Canute to Canterbury, with all the ceremony of a great act of state, in 1023.


Alphege was canonised in 1078. An incised paving slab to the north of the present High Altar of Canterbury Cathedral marks the place where the medieval shrine is believed to have stood. His feast day is 19 April.

Church dedications include: St Alphege the Martyr in Canterbury (now used as an urban studies centre), St Alfege's Church, Greenwich, the twin churches of St Alphege Whitstable and St Alphege Seasalter (chancel only surviving) and St Alphege in Solihull, the main town of the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull.


Lives of St. Alphege in prose - which survives - and in verse were written by command of Lanfranc by the Canterbury monk, Osborn (d. c. 1090), who says that his account of the solemn translation to Canterbury in 1023 was received from the dean, Godric, one of Alphege's own scholars.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ælfheah of Canterbury" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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