Christ is the spouse of the Church: come, let us adore him.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: White.
Other saints: St Erconwald (- 693)
Arundel & Brighton, Brentwood
Saint Erconwald [or Erkenwald] was born at “Stallyngeton in Lindsey” (possibly Stallingborough, near Grimsby) in the early seventh century. His father is variously described as Anna or Offa, king of East Anglia, and a pagan. Erconwald was converted to Christianity at an early age by St Mellitus, the companion of Augustine and first Bishop of London [in the continuous line which ended in 1559: see the note at the bottom]. He then converted his younger sister Ethelburga and baptised her, much to the fury of their father. Ethelburga eventually fled her parents’ home with one servant to escape being forced into marriage with a pagan.
In the year 666 Erconwald founded the monastery of Chertsey, on an island in the Thames, apparently at the junction of several kingdoms. It is described as being founded in the reign of King Egbert, King of Kent; the foundation was confirmed, and richly endowed, by Frithwald, viceroy of Surrey, under Wulfhere King of Mercia. The Viceroy put himself and his son under obedience to Erconwald in return for prayers. Wulfhere confirmed this endowment. There is a further charter of Frithwald and Erconwald, to increase the lands of the monastery: the “Limites Terrarum” describes lands in Chertsey, Thorpe, Egham and adjacent parishes now attached to the monastery.
Shortly after this Erconwald founded a convent at Barking in Essex, intended to be a refuge for his sister Ethelburga. The foundation charter, countersigned by Hodilred, King of Essex, provides us with a specimen of the saint’s handwriting. In the course of building the house at Barking one beam was found to be too short, and was pulled out to the correct length by Erconwald and his sister.
Erconwald remained as Abbot of Chertsey until 675 when he was consecrated third Bishop of London by St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. St Erconwald appears to have been the first resident bishop, and probably began the building of St Paul’s, although traditionally this was adapted from a pagan temple of old Londinium. In 677 he visited Rome, and obtained a number of privileges for his diocese and monastery from Pope Agatho I.
During his time as Bishop, Erconwald became noted for miracles and for evangelization. He instructed St Neot, afterwards of Crowland Abbey, and the two Kings of Essex, Sebbi and Sigheri, the former of whom afterwards became a hermit in St Paul’s under Erconwald’s successor Waldhere.
In 690 Erconwald was summoned, together with St Wilfrid, to the deathbed of St Theodore. Both ministered to him, but Theodore was more concerned to speak to Wilfrid, whom he wished to succeed him. In 692 King Ine of Wessex mentions his “father Erconwald” who assisted him in codifying the Laws of Wessex.
Thus Erconwald is associated with the Kings of East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Wessex and Kent, all of whom seem to have had interests centering in the Chertsey area. The King of Sussex, Æthelwealh, was godson to Wulfhere of Mercia, so six of the Seven Kingdoms are involved in his story.
Towards the end of his life Erconwald was confined to a wheelchair, about which many stories are told. On one occasion a raging river parted to allow the Saint to cross in his chair; on another one wheel fell off but the chair miraculously did not upset. After his death many miracles of healing were worked by the same wheelchair.
In 693 Brithwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated Waldhere as fourth Bishop of London, so it seems likely that Erconwald died in that year, on 30th April. He died while on retreat at Barking Abbey, and there was the usual unseemly dispute over who should have the burying of him, between Barking, Chertsey and London. The Canons of St Paul’s prevailed, and despite a last-ditch attempt by the nuns of Barking, succeeded in capping their miracle with a greater. (The nuns prayed for rain to swell the river at Ilford to make it impossible for the cortege to cross, and to extinguish the candles, but the men of London persuaded the candles to relight, and the river to part again so that they crossed dry-shod.) Despite all this he was buried in a common earthen grave where he remained until 1087 when a fire destroyed the cathedral and everything in it except the coffin containing his remains. These were then translated to a splendid new shrine behind the high altar, where they remained right up to the Great Fire of 1666, despite the depredations of the Reformation. He was venerated throughout the Middle Ages: a Proper Office and Mass were composed in 1386, and from these the diocesan texts for Arundel and Brighton have been derived.
Note: A pedant informs us – and we gratefully acknowledge it – that the above notes are not quite correct. There were Bishops of London long before the first Bishop of London. There may have been up to 16 Bishops of London in Romano-British times; then again, there may not. Bishops from York and from London are documented as having attended the Council of Arles in the year 314. Actually, the record says there were two Bishops of London at the Council, which is impossible. One, Restitutus, was “de civitate Londenensi”, “from the city of London”, which seems reasonable enough. The other, Adelfius, was “de civitate Colonia Londenensium” and this may be a mistake for “de civitate Camulodunensium” – “the city of the people of Camulodunum”, or Colchester. Then again, another scholar has argued that he might have been from Caerleon. The history of our own times may one day be as thin as this!
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ©|
Do you not realise that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God is living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.
|Noon reading (Sext)||2 Corinthians 6:16 ©|
The temple of God has no common ground with idols, and that is what we are – the temple of the living God. We have God’s word for it: I will make my home among them and live with them; I will be their God and they shall be my people.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Jeremiah 7:2,4-5,7 ©|
Listen to the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who come in by these gates to worship the Lord. Put no trust in delusive words like these: ‘This is the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord!’ Since if you amend your behaviour and your actions, I will permit you to remain in this place and live in it.