Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19 - Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr, Peacemaker, Refused to be Ransomed

Alphege had known from a very early age what he wanted to do; he wanted to take vows and become a monk. So, at the earliest possible date for Alphege to make this commitment he applied and became a monk at Deerhurst. He proved not only his commitment but devotion to his calling and soon was transferred to Bath. At Bath he continued to demonstrate his devotion and eventually became the abbot of the community at Bath. In many ways he had been a spiritual leader among them for many years--leading them to take better care of the poor and practice compassion more intently--but his elevation to the role of abbot made the leadership official. His leadership and compassion had attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and after years of service at Bath he was called to become the Bishop of Winchester at the age of thirty so that he could further serve the Church he loved.

He served as Bishop of Winchester for ten years of relative peace before a fateful day in the year 994 when the Danish vikings landed on the coastline of England and began rampaging through the nearby villages. They slaughtered and pillaged the Britons they encountered and eventually an envoy of ministers was sent by the Archbishop to negotiate a peace. Alphege was one of the men sent to speak with the leader of the vikings: Anlaf. A deal was brokered thanks to Alphege's willingness to relate to Anlaf. The group had purchased peace from Anlaf's raids with a regular tribute payment. Further, Anlaf agreed to listen to Alphege's preaching and was soon converted to the Christian way. It's hard to say whether or not Anlaf's conversion was solely because of its political expediency or because of an inner conviction but regardless of Anlaf's intentions it points to Alphege's willingness to relate and commune even with his enemies. After his great success and the death of the Archbishop, Alphege was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rome to receive this position and its symbols.

When he returned to England he was shocked to see viking raiders pillaging the Canterbury cathedral. These were not Anlaf's vikings--at least Anlaf was not there--so there was no treaty between them and the British people. These vikings were seeking a similar tribute as to what Anlaf had received and also copious amounts of ransom money. They captured Alphege and forced him to watch the burning of the cathedral and the brutal murder of many monks and priests. Finally, they let him know that he would be their prisoner until somebody paid them a ransom of 3,000 pounds of gold. He was an important figure and it was possible that his name could have fetched such a huge ransom but Alphege refused to be ransomed. He informed the vikings that he would not pay it or solicit anybody else to pay it because if it were paid by the government then it would come out of the hands of the poor. Alphege was unwilling to hurt the people he loved so that he might be given his life back. So, they beat him savagely and then busted his head open with the back of an axe. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to by martyred.

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