Westminster Abbey is one of the most familiar landmarks in London and is at the centre of our national life. At what is often considered to be the centre of the Abbey, in a small chapel behind the High Altar, is a beautiful jewel encrusted shrine dedicated to the founder of the Abbey, King (or Saint) Edward the Confessor, whose saints day we celebrate today.
Edward was almost the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, followed only by King Harold, whose reign lasted barely a year before he was killed by Duke William of Normandy at the Battle of Hastings.
Edward did not have an easy life. He was the son of King Ethelred ‘the Unready’, who was so unready when the Danes invaded, that he fled from the kingdom with his family and then spent many years in exile in Normandy. The story goes that Edward vowed to make a pilgrimage to St Peter’s in Rome, should he be able to return safely to England to claim his Kingdom. Once he was on the throne, however, he found it impossible to leave his subjects and so the Pope released him from his vow on condition that he founded, or restored, a monastery dedicated to St Peter. Westminster Abbey was the result, though not as we see it now!
Edward was sometimes considered to be a politically ineffectual king, but his personal character and piety made him loved by his people, who queued up in great numbers so that he could lay his hands on them and cure them of disease. This was known as ‘receiving the King’s Touch’. Many other legends and miraculous ‘coincidences’ are said to surround Edward and he was made a saint by Pope Alexander in 1161.
Edward earned himself the title Confessor because of his ‘confession’ of Christianity. His Christian faith was at the centre of his life and clearly this showed to those who had dealings with him. I think it is rather good that at the centre of much of the pomp and ceremony of our national life is a church founded by a king for whom political power meant less than adherence to his belief in God and in His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He seems to me to have had his priorities in the right place.