About the Commemoration
Alphege (Aelfheah) was born in 954. He became a Benedictine monk, then prior of an abbey at Bath, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury at a time when England was being overrun by the Danes. When they attacked and captured Canterbury, Alphege urged them to spare the town, but they made him watch while they slaughtered many of the inhabitants and burned the cathedral; then they imprisoned him.
The Danes demanded that the people of Canterbury pay a ransom for his release, but Alphege refused to let his poor and overburdened people pay it. In a drunken fury his captors set upon him, pelting him with stones. Although one of them, Thorkell the Tall, tried to save him, he was killed by a blow on the head with an axe, the first Archbishop of Canterbury to suffer martyrdom. He died praying for his murderers. His death took place April 19, 1012.
Excerpts from New Book of Festivals & Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints by Philip H. Pfatteicher, copyright, 2008 by Fortress Press, an imprint of Augsburg Fortress.
See also: Ælfheah of Canterbury
From the account of the martyrdom of Alphege by Osbern
Then the devil’s henchmen, foaming out cruelty with poisoned breath, and no longer able to bear the weight of the words of Alphege, leaped from their seats with the force of savage lions, felled him with axes, and then one after another pelted him with stones. Alphege was already at the gates of life, when, remembering Christ the Lord hanging on the Cross for the salvation of all and praying to his Father for his enemies, he touched his right knee and his left foot to the ground. The he offered this prayer for himself and for those who without ceasing were tormenting him. “Only-begotten Son of the most high Father, Lord Jesus. who came into the world through the womb of the pure virgin to save sinners, receive me in peace, and have mercy on these men.” Falling to the ground once but getting up again, he prayed once more, “Good Shepherd, unequalled Shepherd, watch over the children of the Church, whom I commend to you as I die.” Then a man. whom the archbishop had himself baptized, ran up and seeing the holy man struggling still at the very brink of death, was moved by a wrong sense of duty and plunged an axe into his head. Alphege, resting at once in eternal peace, directed his victorious spirit with triumph to heaven. Who, I ask, after those who were the first leaders of the Lord’s flock, lived more innocently than this man or ended his lite more tranquilly? Or whose merits were so similar as those of this warrior of ours and of Stephen the first martyr?
But the Danish chieftains, desiring to conceal both their own foul deed and Alphege’s glory, gathered together and resolved that his body should be thrown into the river, thinking that the enormity of their crimes could be easily hidden and that his memory could be taken away. But what Christ had devised for disgrace for the Danes, was glory to Alphege.
Osbern, Life of St. Alphege, chap. 7, paras. 35-36, Acta Sanctorum, April II (5 June 1986): 640; trans. PHP, based on Antony Snell.
O loving God, your martyr bishop Alphege of Canterbury suffered a violent death when he refused to permit a ransom to be extorted from his people: Grant that all pastors of your flock may pattern themselves on the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep; and who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever.
Readings: Psalm 34 or 31:1-5; Revelation 7:13-17; Luke 12:4-12
Hymn of the Day: “King of the martyrs’ noble band” (H82 236)
Prayers: For all gentle people facing persecution and the violence of the world; For our own enemies; For those who harm others; For those who find it difficult to forgive.
Preface: A Saint (3) (BCP)