The year 870 was a terrible year for the Church in East Anglia. The Viking army that had arrived in 865 became a permanent army of occupation, and when they had amassed horses and supplies from the English, they marched on York, where they settled until the end of the century. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 870 records that the army rode from York across Mercia into East Anglia, captured Thetford, and under their chiefs Ingwar and Hubba, defeated and killed King Edmund. At the same time they came to Medehampstede (Peterborough) and burned and beat it down, slew abbot and monks and all that they found there. They made that which was very great such that it became nothing. When they murdered St. Hedda and all the brethren at Peterborough, they had already demolished the monastery at Bardney in Lincolnshire, killing all the monks, and destroyed Ely, putting both communities of men and women to the sword. The same thing happened at Benet Hulme in Norfolk, where the holy Suniman was abbot, and at the abbey at Thorney where they killed St. Torthred's community. We have a vivid account of the extermination of the community at Croyland in the history of Ingulf, a later abbot, who says that the solemn mass was just ended as the Danes broke into the church, and the clergy had not yet left the sanctuary. The Abbot Theodore, who was celebrant, together with the Deacon and Sub-deacon were murdered in their vestments and the acolytes were cut down in front of the altar. A few escaped into the forest, but all who tried to hide in the monastery were butchered, among them Askegar, the Prior, and two venerable monks of a hundred years old, Grimkeld and Agamund.
The army, moving south, sacked the twin monasteries of Chertsey and Barking founded by St. Erkonwald for himself and his sister St. Ethelburga. All the nuns at Barking were slaughtered, and William of Malmesbury tells us that 90 monks were killed at Chertsey, among them Beocca, the Abbot, and Hethor, a priest.
All of these are venerated as martyrs. Their memories were kept alive by chronicles and the writings of William of Malmesbury
Once the Viking horde was on the move, the Danes murdered and plundered indiscriminately. They seemed to have a particular hatred for those professing the Christian faith, and monastic establishments were prime targets for their raids. By the time they reached Reading, at the end of the year, their blood lust must have been sated, and they wintered there.
Propers for the Martyrs of East Anglia
Almighty and Everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the heart of thy holy martyrs of East Anglia: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Lesson - Jeremiah 15:15-21
The Gospel - St. Mark 8:34-38
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