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01235 520375
 Lisa Paterson

1 Radley Road, Abingdon, Oxfordshire. OX14 3PL


01235  520375. 


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The Church in Abingdon



Saint Edmund of Abingdon – Co-Patron with Our Lady of the Diocese of Portsmouth

It has been said that whereas we revere Thomas a Becket for the manner of his death, we revere Edmund - who was born five years after Becket’s martyrdom – for the manner of his life.

The Early Years

Saint Edmund of AbingdonEdmund was born in Abingdon in 1175, in a house that today is known as St Edmund’s Lane. The house no longer exists, nor does the chapel built over it in memory of him – but the lane does. It is an extraordinary thing to be able to walk the streets of Abingdon and look at the sights and some of the buildings with which Edmund would have been familiar.

Edmund was the eldest of a fair sized family. We hear quite a bit about his brother Robert - who accompanied Edmund through all the different stages of his life - and his two sisters Margaret and Alice, who became nuns at Catesby in Northamptonshire. Edmund’s father, called Reginald (given the nickname Rich), was a merchant who owned various properties in Abingdon, and was possibly employed for certain tasks by the Abbey.

In those days Abingdon was dominated by its Benedictine Abbey. Tradesmen and craftsmen were utterly dependent on it. The abbey controlled market, fishing and mill rights. It was a huge landowner and was mentioned in the Doomsday Book. (William the Conqueror’s son was educated there.)

Edmund’s formidable mother – Mabel (from the French “Belle Marie”) – was originally buried at her death in St. Nicholas Church, a church which still stands today at the entrance to the Abbey Grounds. Mabel was the chief influence in Edmund’s young life. She possessed an iron will and strong character. Everyone who wrote of her mentioned her ascetic and disciplined way of life – which she imposed on her family.

Her husband ended his days a monk. It was laughingly said that he found life in a monastery less strict than living with his wife Mabel! As a boy Edmund was sent with his brother Robert to a school in Oxford – near the present day chapel of Brasenose College - and then when they were about fifteen Mabel sent them to study in Paris. As a farewell gift she gave them both a hair shirt!

Encountering Christ

Legend has it that - as a child - Edmund encountered the Christ child at Milham Ford near Magdalen bridge - and that he also placed a ring on a statue of Our Lady in the church of St Mary the Virgin and a ring on his own finger which he never removed - as a pledge of his commitment to her.

After Paris he returned to Oxford (which in those days numbered about 1500 students) where he became renowned as a teacher or Master of such subjects as grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

He taught his students – “Study as if you were to live forever, live as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Then he was reputed to have had a vision of his mother urging him to study theology. Edmund did so and was ordained a priest. Now he was chiefly famed for his austerities, his compassion and his preaching.

In Oxford he lived on the site of the present day St Edmund Hall, and indeed is said to have built the Lady Chapel at the church of St. Peter in the East next door.

He wrote his famous book – Speculum Ecclesiae or Mirror of the Church – describing the various levels of contemplation.

From 1222 to 1233 Edmund became a Canon, Prebend and Treasurer at Salisbury, at the time when the new Gothic cathedral was being built. However, he chiefly enjoyed ministering to the needs of the people of Calne in Wiltshire where he lived 9 months of the year.

Then in 1233 he was chosen by the Pope to be the Archbishop of Canterbury on account of the moral inspiration of his lecturing and preaching and for his asceticism.

He was genuinely reluctant to accept the post but obeyed, reflecting:

“He who knows all things, knows that I would never consent to this election unless I thought that I should sin mortally by refusing it.”

His seven-year tenure of Canterbury came at a difficult and desperate time for the country. England was on the brink of civil war between the King Henry III and the Barons. But Edmund brokered a peace. It was said that people listened to him because of his virtue.

He preached that there are two things which make a man holy – knowledge of the Truth and love of goodness. He used to say, “If you want to be loved, show yourself to be loveable.”

Edmund’s Passing

Edmund died on the 16th November 1240 at Soissy in France on his way to see the Pope in Rome. His body was taken to the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny, where his shrine above the high altar remains to this today.

On account of his holy life and the miracles that occurred after his death, he was canonized seven years later. On his Feast Day, November 16th, we remember and seek the prayers of St. Edmund, Co-Patron with Our Lady of our Diocese.

Edmund was man of intelligence and deep spirituality, who was respected and loved by all. Unrelenting in defence of liberty and truth, he was unafraid to rebuke kings and stand up to Popes. He was a scholar and renowned preacher.

He was the first Oxford man to become Doctor of Divinity, Archbishop of Canterbury and Saint. He was heroic in self-discipline and compassion. He was a man of faith and deep prayer.

St. Edmund of Abingdon pray for us!

Our Lady of Abingdon - Musings
Our Lady of Abingdon - Musings

Going over from the Convent to the Church on a Sunday morning, and taking a short cut through the cemetery, I sometimes pause by a grave where the headstone reminds us to pray for the repose of the soul Elsie Annie Emerton, who died on 9th October, 1971, aged 88 years. Mrs Emerton, her husband and their 2 daughters became Catholics in 1918. They were received into the Church by the Parish Priest, Father James Doran, having been impressed by a sermon preached by him at an outdoor Benediction, when, by chance, they stood to watch a Corpus Christi Procession. Leaving the graveside I muse on the possibility that the family might be given the gift of Faith through the intercession of Our Lady of Abingdon.

When the Benedictine Monastery was demolished in 1538, the stones were carried away for building, as far out as Culham. There in 1883 in the village inn, called the ‘Sow and Pigs’, Mrs Emerton was born, Elsie Annie Lewington, the only daughter of the proprietors, George and Mary Lewington. The inn was pulled down in 1913 and, in the gable end of the building was found a very large stone, which was placed on a rockery in the grounds of Culham House. Some years afterwards that property was acquired by Mr. Geoffrey Houghton-Brown, who realised that the large stone was a mutilated statue of Our Lady, which came from Abingdon Abbey. He gave the statue to Father Doran, who put it standing in the side chapel of the Church and there it stood for 13 years with a notice hanging round the remains of its neck, giving something of its history.To commemorate the centenary of the re-opening of the Abingdon Mission, Canon Michael Sexton, the then Parish Priest, had the statue restored. This restoration was undertaken by a well-known sculptor, Mr Philip Lindsay Clark, in conjunction with a Benedictine monk from Farnborough Abbey, Dom Theodore Bailey, an expert in medieval art.The statue was then fixed to the wall of the chancel. Beneath the statue an altar was later erected, the cost of which was defrayed by a legacy bequeathed to the Canon, the life-savings of a faithful parishioner, Mary Ann Fisher, who died at the age of 90 and remembered every priest during the first 100 years. At the age of ten Mary Ann was present at the funeral of Doctor John Paul O’Toole, the first priest of the Mission.

In her old age when asked about Dr O’Toole she would say in her Berkshire dialect: "Yes, I know’d ‘im well, I know’d ‘im well, everyone loved ‘im".
The relics enshrined in the altar were encased in a silver jewel casket donated by a convert, Miss Josephine Dockar-Drysdale, of Wick Hall, Radley, in thanksgiving for her Faith, which, she said, after God, she owed to the example of a servant maid. Mrs. Emerton presented a pair of vases, 2 silver tankards, once used in the ‘Sow and Pigs’, with the name engraved underneath.

On May 1st 1954, the centenary year, the ceremony of blessing the statue and the inauguration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Abingdon took place. It was performed by Archbishop John Henry King, Bishop of Portsmouth, whose family kept the Faith right through the Reformation. An appropriate sermon was preached by the Archbishop, and the ceremony was concluded with the Victorian hymn ‘This is the Image of Our Queen’. One could never forget seeing the Archbishop – ‘that piece of English oak’ – standing erect and singing lustily in his sonorous voice:
"In this thine own sweet month of May
Dear Mother of my God, I pray,
Do thou remember me."

Back in Winchester that evening, seated, with the proverbial pipe, in his favourite armchair, and with his prodigious memory, did the Archbishop muse, I wonder, on his schooldays in Abingdon over 60 years earlier, when he used to attend May Devotions and serve at Benediction in the Church on Sunday evenings, going over from the convent, through the orchard and along the cloister, or perhaps, sometimes, taking a short-cut through the cemetery.

Sister M. Catherine
Our Lady’s Convent, May. 1990