A service of ecumenical vespers for pilgrims celebrating the millennium of the martyrdom of St Alphege took place on June 9 at Canterbury Cathedral.
The service was attended by Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and other senior representatives of the main Christian traditions. Delegations from churches dedicated to St Alphege and from other churches joining in this year’s celebrations were also present.
St Alphege was a Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, who is regarded as a martyr for justice. In his death he also became a symbol of reconciliation between divided peoples.
He was martyred in Greenwich on April 19 1012. The invading Danes had taken him prisoner and demanded an exorbitant ransom for his release, but he refused to allow his already impoverished flock to be subjected to further demands. In revenge their soldiers, in the middle of a drunken feast, pelted him with ox bones and then despatched him with an axe blow.
June 9 was the day following the feast of the translation of St Alphege (whose remains were transferred from St Paul’s Minister, London, to Canterbury Cathedral on the orders of King Cnut in 1023). He was officially canonised in 1078. There are eight parishes in England (Anglican and Catholic) whose churches are dedicated to St Alphege. A further 11 have some association with him.
The service at Canterbury Cathedral was the second national celebration of the saint’s martyrdom, the first being the celebrations at Southwark and Greenwich on April 19.
The veneration of St Alphege survived the Norman Conquest. Anselm persuaded an initially sceptical Archbishop Lanfranc that Alphege had died for the sake of justice and that he should remain in the Church calendar. He was canonised by Pope Gregory VII in 1078.