The Saxon Cathedral at Canterbury and The Saxon Saints Buried Therein/Chapter 8

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A.D. 942-959

Stemmate serenus jacet hic sacer Odo severus
Moribus excellens acriter Peccata refellens
Presul et indulgens omni pietate refulgens
Ecclesie et Christi Pugil invictissimus isti
O bone nunc Christe quia sic tibi serviit isti
Celi solamen sibi des te deprecor. Amen.
(From an ancient MS. in the Cottonian Library,
see Weever's Funeral Monuments.)

ST. ODO, who immediately preceded the great Dunstan in the See of Canterbury, was the 22nd Archbishop, and the 10th of those canonized saints who occupied the patriarchal chair of St. Austin.

He was not only a Confessor of the Faith and a reformer of morals, but a great builder and restorer of his cathedral church, and as worthy to be placed amongst the eminent administrators and builders who had occupied the See as Austin or Cuthbert.

St. Odo is one of the more interesting characters which emerge at this time and his memory was justly venerated as a great Churchman and Archbishop, and continued so to be throughout the history of the Cathedral of Canterbury down to the first half of the sixteenth century; inasmuch as though his remains were translated on many occasions and were like the rest of the relics within the Cathedral probably buried beneath its tomb, yet the tomb itself was not broken up, but appears to have found a home in the neighbouring parish church of Fordwich.

Many beautiful and interesting objects of art, including painted glass and panelling, from the Cathedral in post-Reformation days found their way to the churches of Nackington, Adisham, Eythorne and elsewhere, to say nothing of the wonderful tapestry which was alienated from Canterbury and finally went to Aix-en-Provence. As Odo was one of the Saxon builders or cathedral restorers it will be of interest to ascertain what the historians of the Archbishops of Canterbury have to say about this remarkable man concerning his birth, parentage, education and life. We shall then not be surprised to find that after his death in 961 he was buried in a most honourable position in the Cathedral, and that his relics and tomb were moved from one place of honour to another as the Cathedral grew in size and importance, till at length they found a resting-place on the south side of the chapel of the Holy Trinity, or Corona, as it was called, until under the Injunctions of Edward VI everything that was looked upon as a relic, or which had been treated with superstition, was done away with.

Bishop Godwin[1] tells us that the Archbishop was born in East Anglia. His parents were Danes of great wealth and nobility, but pagans. They were bitterly opposed to the Christian religion, so much so that the son was disinherited for merely frequenting the company of those who professed the Christian faith (Edmer). Odo was obliged to forsake his country and kindred and eventually took service with one Ethelhelm, who was attached to the court of King Edward the Elder.

It was here that Odo must have become acquainted with Queen Ediva, wife of Edward the Elder, her stepson Athelstan, and her sons Edmund and Edred, all three of whom were to become the royal and lifelong friends of the future Archbishop.

Queen Ediva was the second wife of Edward the Elder, who was a son of King Alfred (871-901). She was born quite at the end of the ninth or the beginning of the tenth century; and she died on the festival of St. Audoen (August 25) some time after 966. She was the sole heiress of an ealdorman of Kent of the name of Sigelm, a large landowner in the Hundred of Hoo, who was killed, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, in fighting against the Danes in East Anglia in A.D. 905.

Queen Ediva outlived her husband and her sons, and toward the end of a happy life (she calls herself "Ediva felix") she, with the consent of King Edgar, conveyed to Christ's Church in the year of Odo's death, by a deed of gift[2] dated A.D. 961 eight Kentish manors, the title-deeds of which she placed on the High Altar of the Cathedral with her own hands. Her picture, evidently a copy of an older one, by an artist of the fifteenth century, shows her dressed in regal robes, her mantle fastened by a beautiful and enamelled morse, and round her neck a chain from which a jewel is suspended.

This picture now stands in the Chapel of St. Martin in the north-east transept of the Cathedral. On the north side of the altar in this apse her remains are interred, next to those of the Saxon Archbishop Livingus (1013-1020). Upon the wall above may be seen in a mediæval script the words "EDIVY REGINA."[3]

Queen Ediva's stepson, Athelstan, according to Florence of Worcester, was the son of Edward the Elder and of a noble lady called Ecgwyn, and was not the son of a shepherd's daughter as tradition has it. He was brought up to the Army, and had had a good education, being an excellent Latin scholar. He succeeded his father when he was thirty years of age, being crowned at Kingston in Surrey. He was a worthy follower of his father and pursued a policy which earned him the tide of "Glorious Athelstan." He consolidated the kingdom and became really the first King of the English. In Canterbury he is remembered for his valuable gifts of MSS. to the Cathedral, some of which still exist. Amongst them is the MacDurnan Book of the Gospels (now in Lambeth Palace Library), which has his name inscribed in it. This book was presented to him by Maeilbrihde MacDurnan, Abbot of Armagh (888-927). It was written in the ninth, or early part of the tenth century, is famous for its text and illustrations, and
Picture of Queen Ediva.jpg

Picture of Queen Ediva

may be considered as interesting as the celebrated Book of Kells, or the Lindisfarne Gospels. Athelstan also presented to Christ Church another Gospel Book, now the Cotton MS. Tiberius A 2, which is said by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine[4] and also by J. O. Westwood in the Palæographia Sacra Pictoria (1843) to have been the book appointed by him to be used by all succeeding Kings of England at the time of their taking the Coronation Oath. It is supposed to have been written in the scriptorium in Lobbes Abbey in the diocese of Liège. On the twenty-third folio is the inscription:


This book was a present from Otto I of Germany, who had married Athelstan's sister; and from Mathilda, the Empress of Henry, and mother of Otto. On the verso of the twelfth folio is the beginning of the Apograph of a Charter of King Athelstan, dated A.D. 927; whereby he grants to the Church of Christ in Canterbury the land of Folcestan super mare where was formerly a monastery and nunnery, and where St. Eanswith was buried. It is witnessed by King Athelstan; Wulfhelm, Archbishop of Canterbury; Theodredus, Bishop of London; Alphage, Bishop of Winchester; and Odo, Bishop of Sherborne.

The oath of King Edgar (A.D. 958), reprinted from the Reliquæ Antiquæ,[5] where it is given from a contemporary document, is as follows:

"The writing is copied letter by letter after the writing which Dunstan, the Abbot, delivered to our Lord at Kingston, on the day on which they consecrated him King, he forbade him to give any pledge except this pledge, which he laid on Christ's Altar as the Archbishop appointed for him—

"In the name of The Holy Trinity I promise three things to Christian people, and bind myself to them: first, that I will to God's Church and to all Christian people of my realm hold true peace; the second is, that I will forbid rapine and all injustice to all classes of society; the third, that I vow and promise in all my judgments justice and mildheartedness (mercy) that the gracious and mildhearted God, through his everlasting mercy, may forgive us all, who shall live and reign."

The oath was taken by the King, his hand at the time being placed upon the Book of the Gospels, laid upon the Altar; and it was ratified by the same book being immediately kissed. This practice has indeed come down to our own times; it is still used at coronations.

The Coronation Oath of King Ethelred II at Kingston in 978, at which Archbishop Dunstan officiated, is similar to the one above.

Dr. Armitage Robinson, in his Ford Lectures for 1922 on The Times of St. Dunstan, draws attention to another MS. stated by Wanley to have got into the British Museum Library from Christ Church, Canterbury, and supposed to have been presented to that Church by King Athelstan. It is a Gospel Book of the eighth century, now amongst the Royal MSS. as I B vii. The learned Dean thinks it belonged rather to St. Austin's Abbey, as it contains the entry of a manumission made immediately after Athelstan became King, and he points out that on the very day of his coronation Athelstan gave a Charter to the monks of St. Austin's restoring to the Abbey lands in the Isle of Thanet, which had been taken from them. It is possible that it was this book and not the above which had been used as the Book of the Gospels on which the King took the oath, and which was to be kept in future for that purpose. Possibly Archbishop Athelm borrowed the book from St. Austin's for the purpose of the Coronation, and the King gave the Charter to the monks in return for the loan of it.

Edred was the youngest son of Edward the Elder and Ediva. He succeeded to the throne on the murder of his brother Edmund in A.D. 946, and was crowned by Archbishop Odo at Kingston in Surrey. He was a young man when he succeeded his brother and the kingdom was administered by his mother, the saint-like Ediva, and her friend Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury. Edred had had to take up arms against the Northumbrians on account of their revolt, and it was then that Ripon was burnt and destroyed; peace, however, came to the country about 954, and the Danes became obedient to the Saxon king. Edred was, like his mother, a benefactor to the Church ruled by Odo. In A.D. 949 he executed the famous Canterbury Charter,[6] by which he gave the ville and monastery of Reculver, and twenty-five carrucates of land to Christ Church. This charter is also remarkable as being drawn up and written by Dunstan: "unworthy Abbot" he calls

Charter of Edred, A.D. 949 (front).jpg

Photo: Youngman & Son, Canterbury

Charter of Edred, A.D. 949
Written by St. Dunstan. (Front)
Charter of Edred, A.D. 949 (back).jpg

Photo: Youngman & Son, Canterbury

Charter of Edred, A.D. 949
Written by St. Dunstan. (Back)
himself, and continues "my Lord the King dictating, I have written it throughout with my own hand." The body of this interesting document is in Latin, and the lands granted are written in the Anglo-Saxon tongue: it is witnessed by King Edred; his mother, Ediva, "with a mind rejoicing in Christ"; Odo the Archbishop; Alphage the Bishop of Winchester (afterwards to be murdered by the Danes when Archbishop); Athelgar, Presul of the Church of Crediton; and many others.

Edred, like Athelstan and his brother Edmund, owed his early training in the Christian religion to his saintly mother, and in later life to Dunstan, who when the King died at Frome in Somersetshire after a brief reign of nine years buried him in the old cathedral church of Winchester.

To return to the history of Odo, whom we left at the court of Edward the Elder; Ethelhelm finding that he (Odo) was a lad of promising parts, sent him to school where he profited exceedingly, excelling in Latin and Greek (Edmer), which was taught in great perfection by successive scholars of Archbishop Theodore's school. Arriving at man's estate he was baptized, and soon after took deacon's orders, and in due course was ordained to the priesthood.

According to the chroniclers, both when he was a layman, and also after he had taken Holy Orders, Odo served in the wars and greatly distinguished himself. After he had been ordained to the priesthood he accompanied Ethelhelm to Rome, on the journey his friend fell sick of a fever but he recovered by drinking a cup of wine over which Odo had in blessing made the sign of the Cross.[7] In A.D. 927 he was nominated by King Athelstan as Bishop of Ramsbury in Wilts, being consecrated by Archbishop Wulfhelm. This see was later moved to Sherborne and afterwards to Salisbury. In A.D. 942, Athelstan being dead, Edmund, upon the death of Archbishop Wulfhelm, translated him to Canterbury. Before accepting this exalted position, Odo realizing his secular condition and feeling that no one but a professed monk should occupy the Chair of St. Austin, determined to be professed according to the Benedictine Rule. It appears that though St. Wilfrid and Benedict Biscop had introduced a reformation of the Rule into England, at this time there was not a single Religious House in England which carried out the Rule in its purity. Odo therefore determined to go to Fleury in France, a monastery that had been reformed by a Cluniac Abbot in 930 to be initiated, from whence he returned in 942 to Canterbury a Benedictine monk, to be installed in the Metropolitical Church. Later on, amongst his other activities as Archbishop he set himself to extend the Rule of St. Benedict throughout the English religious houses.

Odo remained Archbishop throughout the reign of Edmund, until this king's tragic death at his own table in his own hall on St. Austin's Day (August 28) in 946, when he was stabbed to the heart by a robber called Liofa; and through the reign of Edred, who died in 955. He crowned Edwig, or Edwy in 956, whose marriage with Elfgifu he pronounced incestuous, after his friend and successor Dunstan, then Abbot of Glastonbury, had had an unseemly squabble with the young king at the Coronation Banquet and had torn him from the society of his wife and mother-in-law, and had carried him back to his nobles by main force.

From this time onwards till his death in A.D. 959 Odo was engaged in the restoration of discipline amongst both the secular and religious clergy, and the establishment of a higher ideal as to morality amongst the clergy and laity alike. In the reign of King Edmund he issued a set of Constitutions[8]: these concern the Freedom of the Church; the Duties of Princes; the Office of Bishops; of Priests; of Clerics; of Monks; the prohibition of irregular marriages; of Unity and Concord in the Councils of the Church; of Fasting and the Giving of Alms; and the Payment of Tithes.

In 947 he was at Ripon when it was destroyed by Edred and his army as before mentioned, in the expedition against the Northerners, and it was then that he obtained the relics of St. Wilfrid, as Edmer tells us, and translated them to his Cathedral Church.

In 957 he consecrated Dunstan to the Bishopric of Worcester; two years later he died in the odour of sanctity on June 2, 959, being generally known as "Odo Severus" on account of the stern discipline he introduced in a time of great laxity. His friend and successor Dunstan always spoke of him as "Odo the Good"; and without doubt he was a righteous and holy man who commanded the respect of all with whom he came in contact. His work in Canterbury has already been described, and his memory has been preserved by the observation of his Festival on June 2 as a Red Letter Day. It is noted in the Kalendar of Christ Church preserved in Register K,[9] also in the Canterbury Martyrology[10] and in that in Hollingbourne's Psalter,[11] and the sum of vd. was paid in 1273 by the Sacrist for extra music and bellringing (pro sonitu) as appears in the Sacrist's accounts for that year. I am indebted to the Rev. C. E. Woodruff for a note on the Collect used in the thirteenth century at Christ Church. It is found in a MS. with the Press Mark Y. 68, and is entitled


Propiciare quesumus Domine nobis famulis tuis per sanctorum tuorum, Gregorii, Augustini, Wilfridi, Audoeni, Martini, Nicholai, Odonis et aliorum omnium quorum reliquie in ista continentur ecclesia merita gloriosa ut eorum piis intercessionibus ab omnibus semper protegamur adversis, per etc.

(Translation of above.)

O Lord, look graciously upon us Thy servants for the sake of the glorious merits of Thy saints, Gregory, Austin, Wilfrid, Audoen, Martin, Nicholas, Odo, and of all the other saints whose relics are contained in this Church, that by their pious intercessions we may be delivered from all adversities through, etc.[12]

The above Collect was probably used on the Feast Days of those saints mentioned, as the day called "The Feast of Relics" does not appear to have been observed at Canterbury. In the time of Prior William Molash (1427-1437) the image of Archbishop Odo, together with that of Archbishop Plegmund and twelve others were placed in the choir at Christ Church,[13] where they remained till the issue of the Injunctions of King Edward VI in his first year, when all the images were cast out of the church. In the Treasurer's accounts for the year (1548–1549) there is this entry:

"for extirpating the images in the Church this year....13s. 4d.

Osbern, in his Life of St. Dunstan,[14] tells us of the tomb which was placed over the remains of the saint, and the story of the dove:

"Now on the day of the coming of Dunstan, the successor of Odo, to Canterbury, he was celebrating Mass at the Altar of the Saviour, when suddenly the House was covered with a cloud, and that Dove which erst was seen of John in Jordan, again appeared and hovered over him, and when the sacrifice was completed, it settled on the tomb of the Blessed Odo which was constructed in the fashion of a pyramid to the south of the Altar."

Edmer, in his Life of Odo, tells the same story and with regard to the particular altar at which Dunstan was celebrating, says:

"at the Altar of Our Lord and Saviour at Canterbury";

there can be little doubt therefore that the altar referred to was the one set in the chord of the apse, and not the Great Altar built of rough stones and cement which was fixed at the extreme east end of the apse against the wall. The tomb itself was raised in the form of a pyramid, and there was the miraculous appearance of a dove which settled on the tomb, an event which it was quite possible would lead in those days to the erection of the figure of a dove on the tomb itself to commemorate the miracle.

Edmer states that the bodies of the pontiffs, Cuthbert, Bregwin, and their successors (presumably those who were buried in the Church of St. John), rested undisturbed in their coffins after the fire of 1067 for three years, until Lanfranc Abbot of Caen was made Archbishop of Canterbury; when after rebuilding the Church, he brought the Saxon Archbishops into his newly founded Cathedral and placed them each in a separate wooden coffin, putting them upon a vault in the north part of the church where daily the mystery of the Sacrifice of Salvation was celebrated. This was evidently the upper chapel in the north transept, dedicated to St. Blaise. At this time the choir occupied the eastern part of the nave and the transept. This is proved by a story related by Edmer that, in his time, it happened that one of the elder brethren of the Church, Alfwin the Sacrist, on the night of the festival of St. Wilfrid (October 12) was resting in a certain lofty place in the church outside the choir and before the altar of St. Blaise, above which the relics of the Blessed Wilfrid were deposited in a shrine; there as he lay between sleeping and waking he saw the choir filled with light, and angelic persons performing the service, and beheld those whose duty it was to read or sing, ascend the cochlea or winding stair (still in the north-west corner of the transept) and ask a blessing before the altar and body of the blessed man, which done, they straightway descended, returned to the choir and resumed the usual office of the church with all solemnity.

It seems that the body of St. Odo and his tomb were saved from the fire of 1067; and it is implied that they rested on the upper vault of the north transept. In about fifty years they were again translated, for in the time of St. Anselm, who had succeeded Lanfranc in 1093, the choir of the latter was taken down by Prior Ernulf (1096–1107) and rebuilt on a much larger scale. The new church was dedicated in 1130 and its eastern rectangular chapel, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was built out beyond the ambulatory surrounding the choir. The body of Odo, covered by his tomb, was placed on the south side of the altar of the Holy Trinity in this chapel, and that of St. Wilfrid on the north; to the west of them were subsequently placed the bodies of Lanfranc and Theobald respectively.

It was at this altar that St. Thomas of Canterbury was afterwards wont to say his Mass, and it was thither he was proceeding for Vespers with his familia on the evening of his martyrdom.

During the terrible fire of 1174 when the choir of St. Anselm was gutted, the relics and bodies of the Archbishops were removed from their chests, and the coffins from their tombs, and deposited for safety near the altar of the Holy Cross in the nave, but the bones of St. Odo and St. Wilfrid were placed temporarily beneath the shrines of St. Dunstan and St. Alphage, which were on either side of the High Altar. On the Easter Eve of 1180, however, the rebuilt choir was taken possession of by the monks, and the body of St. Odo was finally translated to the south side of the new round chapel of the Holy Trinity, or Corona, as it is called in Canterbury, where it lay with its oolite pyramidal tomb above it. The relics of St. Wilfrid were placed on the north side of the same chapel, the position of his tomb being recognized by the sunk quatrefoils of the step beneath the north window as before mentioned.

In the Inventory of Books and Relics in Christ Church, Canterbury, 1315–1316, made during the Priorate of Henry of Eastry, occurs: "Corpus Sancti Odonis in feretro ad coronam versus austrum";[15] and a last reference is in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where, amongst the Parker MSS., is one of the time of Archbishop Warham[16] wherein it is stated: "Odo modo jacet ad Coronam Sancti Thome in capella sancte Trinitatis ad dexteram."

St. Odo's dust probably still lies under the step on the south side of the Corona. His tomb may be the one in Fordwich Church, of which no early history is known save that it was removed from the west wall of that church in the eighteenth century and is now against the north wall of the aisle; it had been turned out into the churchyard, brought to a garden in Canterbury and lastly sent again to Fordwich. It is composed of oolitic limestone, its nearest early representative is Bath Stone, the carving upon it is of the time of Odo, and upon the ridge is a plug hole and a rest where might have been fitted a representation of the dove carved in stone as seen by his successor Dunstan.

  1. Catalogue of Bishops of England, by F. Godwin, 1615.
  2. Ch. Ch., Cant., MSS., Reg. J, f. 310.
  3. For an account of the Picture of Queen Ediva, see article on Arch. Cant., Vol. XXXVI, p. 1, by Rev. C. E. Woodruff.
  4. Vol. XXXIII, p. 155.
  5. Vol. II, p. 194.
  6. MS. Chartæ Antiquæ R. 14.
  7. Life of St. Oswald in Historians of York, Rolls Series.
  8. Brit. Mus., MS. Cotton, Vespas, A 14, f. 173 vo.—Wilkins, Concilia, Vol. I, p. 212.
  9. Ch. Ch., Cant., MSS., Case F.I.
  10. Brit. Mus., Arundel MS. 68.
  11. Lambeth MSS., 558.
  12. Relic Sunday was the third Sunday after Midsummer Day, and was therefore a movable Feast, see N. Harris Nicolas's Notitia Historica; but according to the Sarum Use, the Feast of Relics was celebrated on the first Sunday after the Feast of the Translation of St. Thomas of Canterbury, i.e. after July 7.
    This Feast was not generally observed in the Catholic Church, nor is it at the present time. It has been the custom to keep the Festival in certain particular dioceses, e.g. in the diocese of Arras in France, where it is observed on November 5 by the recital of a particular office, and relics are on that day exposed on or near the High Altar in every church in the diocese. (Kindly communicated by the Revd. Canon Delpiere of the Diocese of Arras, Pas-de-Calais, France.)
  13. Stone's Chronicle, p. 19, Searle.
  14. Anglia Sacra, 1691, Vol. II, p. 110.
  15. British Museum, Galba, E. IV.
  16. MS. 298, fol. 99 et seq.