(Elphege, AElfheah) was born about 953, during the second major period of Viking raids against England. He became first a monk and then a hermit, and then was appointed Abbot of Bath. In 984 he became Bishop of Westminster. In 994 King Ethelred the Unready sent him to parley with the Danish invaders Anlaf and Swein. The Anglo-Saxons paid tribute, but Anlaf became a Christian and swore never to invade England again. He never did. In that same year Alphege brought the newly baptized King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway to a peaceful meeting with King Ethelred, and to his confirmation at Andover. (Remark: "Unready" does not mean that the king was often unprepared; it means that he was headstrong and stubborn, and would not accept "rede," meaning counsel or advice.)
In 1005 Alphege became Archbishop of Canterbury. In 1011 the Danes overran much of southern England. The payment of the tribute agreed on (the Danegeld) did not stop them, and in September they captured Canterbury and held Alphege and other prominent persons for ransom. The others were duly paid for and released, but the price demanded for Alphege was a fantastically high 3,000 pounds (worth of course, far more than modern pounds). Alphege, knowing the poverty of his people, refused to pay or let anyone else pay for him. The infuriated Danes, at the end of a drunken feast, brought him out and repeated their demands. When he again refused, they threw various objects at him (large bones from the feast, for example) and finally an axeman delivered the death-blow. Their chief, Thorkell the Tall, tried to save him, offering all his possessions except his ship for the Archbishop's life. By his death Alphege became a national hero.
When the Dane Cnut (Canute) became King of England in 1016, he adopted a policy of conciliation, and in 1023 he brought the body of Alphege from London to Canterbury, where he was long remembered as a martyr, one who died, not precisely for professing the Christian faith, but for exercising the Christian virtue of justice. In art, he is shown with an axe, the instrument of his death, or as a shepherd defending his flock from wolves.
Propers for Alphege - Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr.
O GOD, who dost support and defend us with the glorious witness of thy blessed martyr Alphege: Grant us to go forward in his footsteps, and ever to rejoice in fellowship with him; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Epistle - Revelation 7:13-17.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
The Gospel - St. Matthew 10:16-22.
BEHOLD, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall he brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
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