mercredi 20 mai 2015

Saint ETHELBERT d'EST-ANGLIE, roi et martyr

Le roi martyr saint ETHELBERT d’Est-Anglie 
représenté sur une plaque de cuivre dans la cathédrale de Hereford (dessin d'après modèle).

Saint Ethelbert

roi et martyr ( 793)

Roi d'Angleterre et martyr à Cardiff.

Il était promis à sainte Alfreda quand il fut assassiné.

Son assassin fit pénitence en découvrant la sainteté de sa victime.


Endormi près d'Hereford, Angleterre, vers 793-794. Le roi Ethelbert a été l'objet d'un culte considérable comme Thaumaturge et Martyr. Cependant, certains, comme Guillaume de Malmesbury, eurent des appréhensions concernant la perpétuation de sa vénération. Il citait l'autorité de Saint Dunstan et le témoignage des miracles comme motif pour autoriser la continuité du culte. Ethelbert fut assassiné à Sutton Walls dans l'Herefordshire, apparemment pour des raisons dynastiques, à l'instigation de l'épouse d'Offa de Mercie.

Sa pieuse "Vita", écrite par Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald de Galles), nous rapporte qu'Ethelbert fut un homme de prière dès son enfance. Bien qu'étant encore fort jeune, il succéda à son père Ethelred comme roi d'Est Anglie et règna rempli de bonne volonté quarante-quatre ans durant. On rapporte que sa maxime habituelle était "au plus haute la position occupée par l'homme, au plus il doit être humble". C'était la règle de sa propre conduite.

Désirant assurer la stabilité de son royaume par une alliance, il sollicita la main de la vertueuse Alfreda (Aelfthryth), fille du puissant roi Offa. A cet effet, il visita Offa à Sutton-Walls, à quatre miles d'Hereford. Il fut courtoisement reçu, mais après quelques jours, fut traîtreusement assassiné par Grimbert, un officier du roi Offa, avec la connivence de la reine Quendreda qui voulait s'accaparer son royaume pour agrandir le sien.

Son corps fut enterré secrètement près de la rivière Lugg à Maurdine de Marden, mais des miracles en révélèrent la cachette. Peu après, il fut déplacé à l'église de Fernley (Heath of Fern), appelée à présent Hereford. La ville grandit autour de l'église portant le nom d'Ethelbert après que le roi Wilfrid de Mercie l'agrandit et l'enrichit. Hereford devint le second plus important lieu de pèlerinage de l'Angleterre médiévale après Canterbury. Le corps fut brûlé par les Danois en 1050, mais le chef d'Ethelbert fut enterré à Westminster. La fête d'Ethelbert est aussi observée dans les diocèses papistes de Cardiff et Northampton. 

Quendreda mourut misérablement endéans les trois mois de son crime. Sa soeur Alfreda devint Ermite à Croyland. Offa expia le péché de sa reine par un pèlerinage à Rome, où il fonda une école pour les Anglais. Egfrid, le fils unique d'Offa, mourut après un règne de quelques mois, et la couronne des Merciens fut transmise à une famille descendant de Penda.


Tout à la fin de son Histoire Ecclésiastique du Peuple Anglais, saint Bède-le Vénérable évoque la mort, qui lui est toute contemporaine, de Wihtred roi de Kent (l’an 725) en indiquant qu’il laissait trois héritiers de son royaume dont l’aîné était Æthelberht (ou Ethelbert). (T. III, livre V, 23, 1, Sources Chrétiennes N°491, Le Cerf, Paris - 2005). Plus tard, ce roi, deuxième du nom, « fut assassiné par le roi de Mercie, Offa, qui convoitait l’Est-Anglie et l’unit en effet à ses possessions. Offa fit pénitence, mais Dieu, qui punit souvent les parents dans les enfants, permit que son unique héritier mourût après quelques mois de règne et que la couronne de Mercie passât dans une autre famille. Le corps de saint Ethelbert fut transporté à Hereford, où une église fut bâtie en son honneur, et où il opéra un grand nombre de miracles. (An 793) » (Les Petits Bollandistes, Vies des Saints, au 20 mai, date de la fête de saint Ethelbert).

Ethelbert of East Anglia M (AC)

Died near Hereford, England, in 793. King Ethelbert had a considerable cultus during the middle ages, although some, such as William of Malmesbury, have misgivings about the continuance of his veneration. He was murdered at Sutton Walls in Herefordshire, apparently for dynastic reasons at the instigation of the wife of Offa of Mercia. His pious vita, written by Giraldus Cambrensis, tells us that Ethelbert was a man of prayer from his childhood. While still very young, he succeeded his father Ethelred as king of East Anglia and ruled benevolently for 44 years. It is said that his usual maxim is that the higher the station of man, the humbler he ought to be. This was the rule for his own conduct.

Desiring to secure stability for his kingdom by an heir, he sought the hand of the virtuous Alfreda, daughter of the powerful King Offa. With this in mind, he visited Offa at Sutton-Wallis, four miles Hereford. He was courteously entertained, but after some days, treacherously murdered by Grimbert, an officer of king Offa, through the contrivance of queen Quendreda who wanted to add his kingdom to their own.

His body was secretly buried at Maurdine of Marden, but miracles revealed its hiding place. Soon it was moved to a church at Fernley (Heath of Fern), now called Hereford. The town grew around the church bearing Ethelbert's name after King Wilfrid of Mercia enlarged and enriched it.

Quendreda died miserably within three months after her crime. Her daughter Alfreda became a hermit at Croyland. Offa made atonement for the sin of his queen by a pilgrimage to Rome, where he founded a school for the English. Egfrid, the only son of Offa, died after a reign of some months, and the Mercian crown was translated into the family descended of Penda (Attwater, Benedictines).

May 20

St. Ethelbert, King of the East-Angles, Martyr
IN his childhood, after the hours of his studies, he stole away from his schoolfellows when they went to play, and spent most of the time allotted to recreation in prayer. He succeeded young his father Ethelred in his kingdom, which he ruled forty-four years, according to the maxims of a perfect saint. It was his usual saying, that the higher a station is in which a man is placed the more humble and benevolent he ought to be. And this was the rule of his own conduct. To secure the tranquillity of his kingdom by an heir, he was persuaded to marry; and having heard much of the virtue of Alfreda the daughter of Offa the powerful king of the Mercians, he thought of making her his royal consort. In this design he paid a visit to that king, who resided at Sutton-Wallis, on the river Lugg, four miles from the place where Hereford now stands. He was courteously entertained, but, after some days, treacherously murdered by Grimbert an officer of King Offa, through the contrivance of Queen Quendreda, that his kingdom might be added to their own. This happened in 793. He was privately buried at Maurdine or Marden; but his body being glorified by miracles it was soon after removed to a fair church at Fernley, that is, Heath of Fern, now called Hereford; which town had its rise from this church, which bore the name of St. Ethelbert when Wilfrid king of Mercia much enlarged and enriched the same. Quendreda died miserably within three months after her crime. Her daughter Alfreda devoted herself to God, and led a penitential solitary life at Croyland, amidst the fens. Offa endeavoured to atone for the sin of his queen by a pilgrimage to Rome, where he founded a school for the English after the example of King Ina, who had erected one in that city in 726, when he established the Peter-pence among the West-Saxons, which Offa on this occasion extended to the Mercians in 794. Egfrid the only son of Offa, died after a reign of some months, and the Mercian crown was translated into another family of the posterity of Penda. How sharp are the thorns of ambition! whereas virtue finds its peace and crown whether in adversity or in prosperity. See Harpsfield, Malmesbury, and Leland, Itiner. t. 8, p. 56, who quotes the Life of St. Ethelbert written by Giraldus Cambrensis; also by Osbert de Claro.
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume V: May. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.
St. Ethelbert
Date of birth unknown; d. 794; King of the East Angles, was, according to the "Speculum Historiale" of Richard of Cirencester (d. about 1401), the son of King Ethelred and Leofrana, a lady of Mercia. Brought up in piety, he was a man of singular humility. Urged to marry, he declared his preference for a life of celibacy, but at length consented to woo Altrida (Alfrida), daughter of Offa, King of the Mercians. Leofrana foreboded evil and tried to dissuade Ethelbert; but in spite of an earthquake, an eclipse of the sun, and a warning vision, he proceeded from Bury St. Edmunds to Villa Australis, where Offa resided. On his arrival Altrida expressed her admiration for Ethelbert, declaring that Offa ought to accept him as suzerain. Cynethryth, the queen-mother, urged by hatred of Ethelbert, so poisoned Offa's mind against him, that he accepted the offer of a certain Grimbert to murder their guest. Ethelbert, having come for an interview with Offa, was bound and beheaded by Grimbert. The body was buried ignominiously, but, revealing itself by a heavenly light, was translated to the cathedral at Hereford, where many miracles attested Ethelbert's sanctity. The head was enshrined at Westminster Abbey.

The "Chronicon" of John Brompton (fl. 1437) adds a few particulars: the body with the head was first buried on the banks of the Lugg. On the third night the saint commanded one Brithfrid, a nobleman, to convey his relics to Stratus-way. During the journey the head fell out of the cart and healed a man who had been blind for eleven years. Finally the body was entombed at Fernley, the present Hereford. According to Brompton, Altrida became a recluse at Croyland. Offa repented of his sin (Matthew of Paris represents Offa as ignorant of the plot till after Ethelbert's murder), gave much land to the martyr, "which the church of Hereford holds to the present day", founded St. Albans and other monasteries, and made his historic pilgrimage to Rome.

St. Ethelbert figures largely in the Missal, Breviary, and Hymnal of the Use of Hereford. His feast is on 20 May. Thirteen English churches, besides Hereford cathedral, are dedicated in honour of Ethelbert; and one of the gateways of Norwich cathedral bears his name.


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, sub anno 792; RICHARD OF CIRENCESTER, Speculum Historiale, in R. S., I, 262 sqq; Chronicle of BROMPTON, in TWYSDEN, 748 sqq; Acta SS., May, V, 271; Bibl. Hag. Lat., 394; BREWER, Opera Girald. Cambren., III, 407, V, pp. xlv and 407; WHARTON, Anglia Sacra, II, p. xxii; HARDY, Catalogue of Materials, I, 495; STUBBS in Dict. Of Christian Biography, II, 215; CHEVALIER, Répertoire, I, 1365; HUNT in Dict. Nat. Biog., XVIII, 17; STANTLON, Menology.

Ryan, Patrick W.F. "St. Ethelbert." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 20 May 2015 <>.

Also known as
  • Aethelbert
  • Albert
  • Albright

Son of Ethelred, King of the East Angles, and Leofrana. A pious youth, he would have preferred religious life, but was in line for the throne. King of East Anglia for 44 years. He would have preferred to remain celibate, but agreed to seek the hand of Althryda (Alfrida) daughter of Offa, King of the Mercians in order to continue a stable line to the crown. There were a number of supernatural indications that it was a bad choice, but Ethelbert went anyway. Due to court intrigues, Ethelbert was murdered by a man named Grimbert at the instigation of his father-in-law, Offa of Mercia. Often listed as a martyr.

  • murdered in 793 at Villa Australis, Mercia, England
  • his body was buried like trash, but a heavenly light identified it, and it was eventually relocated
  • buried at Maurdine near the Lugg River in Mercia
  • remains relocated to Stratus-way
  • remains relocated to Fernley (modern Hereford, England)
  • remains relocated to Hereford Cathedral
  • during one of the moves the head fell off the body, fell of the cart it was being carried in, touched a pedestrian who had been blind for eleven years, and cured him
  • head enshrined at Westminster Abbey