Bertha of Kent v. Edmund

And...we're back for a FULL WEEK of Saintly Sixteen action! Today Bertha of Kent takes on Edmund. Like a penitential chess match, it's queen vs. king.

On Friday, in the second matchup of this round, Florence Li-Tim Oi defeated Enmegahbowh 64% to 36% to advance to the Elate Eight.

Will the Lent Madness voting public be "blessed" with another episode of Monday Madness? Stay tuned to find out.

And in the meantime, go vote!

Bertha of Kent

Queen Bertha of Kent is a medieval silent influencer - her indelible marks on religion and society were not clearly visible until long after her death. Feasibly, without her prodding her husband the king, St. Augustine might not have been as successful in bringing Christianity to England, thereby changing the course of history.

Bertha, a Christian, was born in France around 539 CE; she married Ethelbert, a pagan, in 580, and moved to his home in Kent, England; she died about 602.

One of her lasting imprints is found in her beliefs, which swayed her husband, King Ethelbert, to convert from his pagan beliefs and gods. Centuries later, Ethelbert is known as the first Christian king of England.

While records of her actual words have not been unearthed, there is an array of what others have said about her. History tends to show her in the shadow of her husband; nonetheless, the church chronicles tell otherwise. Bertha is mentioned by some of the great messengers of her day: Bishop Gregory of Tours; the Anglo-Saxon scholar/historian the Venerable Bede; Pope Gregory the Great; plus all the references to her influence in numerous books through the ages.

Bertha’s marriage to Ethelbert is the main reason that anything is known about her early years in France. Gregory of Tours' comments about Bertha were fleeting, but noteworthy. His only mention of Bertha put her in relation to the men in her life, her father and her husband: “He [Charibert, her father] had a daughter who afterwards married a husband in Kent and was taken there.”

Venerable Bede acknowledged Bertha’s influence on the king: “The fame of the Christian religion had already reached Ethelbert as a result of his wife's faith.”

In 612, Bertha persuaded Ethelbert to welcome Augustine to Kent, thereby establishing her as a mover and shaker in Christian history. After Augustine was settled and was baptizing new Christians, Pope Gregory wrote a long letter to Bertha brimming with glowing praise: “For your good deeds are known not only among the Romans, who have prayed earnestly for your life, but also through diverse places, and have come even to the ears of the most serene prince at Constantinople.”

There are books about her, such as “Queen Bertha and Her Times” and the young adult book, “Bert & Bertha, King & Queen of Kent: A Love Story Maybe, Maybe Not.” A film, Saint Bertha Queen of Kent, was produced in 2014.

Thanks to Queen Bertha’s Trail and the14 bronze plaques directing the way through the city of Canterbury and the UNESCO World Site, she is mentioned in numerous historical references and travel guides.

Neva Rae Fox


Edmund, the King of East Anglia from around 855 until his death on November 20, 869, is remembered as Martyr for his death in defense of East Anglia from pagan Viking invasion in 868-869.

While markedly few historical facts of Edmund’s life and death are known, largely thanks to the victorious Vikings who destroyed evidence of his existence and reign, he was canonized by the church quite soon after his death – by the time East Anglia was absorbed by Wessex in 1918, a series of coins remembering Edmund had been minted – they are now known as St. Edmund pennies. Over 1800 specimens were found in the 19th century.

Edmund’s remains travelled as much, if not more, than the martyr and king himself. In 1010, his remains were moved to London to protect them for veneration and keep them away from the Viking pestilence. By 1013, they were moved again, this time to a town bearing his name to this day – Bury St. Edmunds – there to rest for ever.

Or so one would think. In the 17th century, a lawyer in Toulouse decided that Edmund’s remains had been taken from Bury as Louis VIII of France retreated after a defeat in Lincoln in 1217. Indeed, the records of the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Tolouse show “St. Edmund” among the church’s relics in 1425. The relics are credited with saving Toulouse from the plague of 1628-1631; the remains were placed in a religquary, there to rest after much travel.

Or so one would think. By 1901, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, received relics from Saint-Sernin for inclusion in London’s Westminster Cathedral. Upon their arrival in England, they were housed in the Fitalan Chapel at Arundel Chapel in West Sussex. Never translated from Arundel to Westminster Cathedral, it was there the purported remains of Edmund were left to rest in peace.

Or so one would think. In 1966, three teeth, purportedly from some portion of Edmund’s relics, were given to a monastery in Berkshire, England. As of 1993, the vast majority of Edmund remained in West Sussex. Or at least, so one would hope.

David Sibley



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87 comments on “Bertha of Kent v. Edmund”

  1. My great great great who came to America in 1635 was Edmond, one of my son's middle name is Edmond... and of course there's Edmond of Narnia. In my family it's a no contest... if not all the way to the Golden Halo, at least for today.

  2. Edmund for me as I was confirmed by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich many, many moons ago

  3. I'd like to take a moment to appreciate our bloggers, who write clever material on the fly without any renumeration except our praise and gratitude. Thank you so much, one and all, for your enhancement of my Lenten experience.

  4. I just have to say that I’m just not into relics. To me a syncretism of Pagan belief and Christianity with more than a hint of magical power. GOD knows that ppl needed a sign but it’s not in my world view.

  5. Both of these are a stretch! One is all but hidden; the other does a lot of post- mortem traveling. And just as with Edmund (the Bishop of Canterbury is not the Edmund for this year) this Augustine is hardly known except for a few body parts. Just not " mad" for either one.

  6. While my vote went to Bertha, David Sibley's twisted tale of Edmund's posthumous travels was hilarious! This one would think that perhaps how Bury St. Edmunds really got its name is that people got weary of the "Where's Edmund?" tales of him being exhumed and dug up and parceled out tooth by toenail and began saying sheesh, just bury him, okay???

  7. Oh, my! Y'all are cracking me up! How I love the creative poetry and the humorous conversations. Thanks for giving me a good Monday giggle!
    Grace and peace!

  8. Speaking of quirks, the legend tells of the Vikings shooting arrows into Edmund until he bristled like a hedge hog. They cut off his head and threw it deep into the forest. When his followers found the head, it was being protected by a wolf. After the head was reunited with the body it miraculously reattached. Many miracles were attributed to St. Edmund and his shrine at Bury St. Edmunds became a place of pilgrimage. A shout out to the wolf and St. Edmund for giving his life for his faith.

  9. I went with Edmund, solely on the strength of David Sibley's charming and witty write-up. Perhaps some portion of Edmund's relics will make it forward by way of the other Martyrs. Or so one would hope.

  10. As Patron Saint of my Church, Edmund gets my vote. I know there isn't a lot known about him but there is more to him than how many times his remains were moved. After all he was the first Patron St. of England and there are still groups who want him reinstated over St. George. In my opinion that was an unfair write up guaranteeing a win for Bertha!

  11. Both biographies were a bit of a struggle for me with conflicting dates, such as Bertha getting Ethelbert to engage with Augustine ten years after she died. Same thing with Edmund's details.

  12. Are the writers reminded to proofread their written work? Alternatively, is there someone who proofreads submitted copy? The Bertha of Kent writer stated that Bertha died around 602, yet a few paragraphs later, the writer states that in 612, Bertha persuaded her husband to welcome Augustine. Both cannot be true.

    In addition, the writer for Edmund stated that Edmund's remains were placed in a "religquary." Even spell check would have caught this misspelling of reliquary.

    Now I know these errors are pretty minor, but for readers like me, they reduce my ability to believe that the writers know what they are talking about.

    1. The writers are doing this as an act of love. Frequently they have to provide copy quickly, as the bracket results cannot be known in advance. (That would cause great consternation among bookies in the other Madness running co-terminously.) So far no one has proposed betting on the saints. That’s probably because we all gave up gambling for Lent as a pious practice. Console yourself by noting how frequently the words in the LM bios are EXACTLY THE SAME as the words in Wikipedia, and marvel at how this proves the miracle of the Pentateuch.

    1. Oh, please - there's not a person alive who isn't influenced by someone on the other side of the grass!

  13. Mea Culpa for the typos in Bertha's write-up today. Alas, I am human and am prone to errors.

    1. To err is human--to put up with people's complaints about minor spelling errors is divine!

  14. As mentioned before, I attend the Parish of Sait edmund's in San Marino, California - I MUST vote for him. AND besides,I like his story!

  15. As the first patron saint of England, St. Edmund is a powerful symbol of early Christianity in Britain. Even though a very young man, Edmund stood against the incursions of the pagan Vikings, thus providing a strong focus for the Christians of Britain. The remains of his Abbey at St. Edmundsbury today are still evocative of the faith of the early Christians.

    I appreciate Bertha and her conversion of her husband, and her support of Augustine of Canterbury, but Edmund and his martyrdom show the force of early Christianity in Britain that enabled the Church to ultimately flourish. My vote today is for Edmund, patron of my parish and true patron saint of England, for the Golden Halo!

  16. Ethelbert may have been the first Christian king IN England, but there were no kings OF England, of any religion, before 927.

    1. Was Aethelstan the first "king of the English" or the first "king of England"? And who were "the English"? And did "England" in fact exist? I find these confusing questions, and I think I have the same questions about today's "England." What is "England"? and what is "the U.K."?

  17. Although I know Queen Bertha will clobber Edmund -- in the 80-20 style that seems to typify many of the contests this year -- I had to vote for King Edmund, as the British side of my family hails from the area around Bury.

    That said, neither the current bio nor the description of King Edmund in the first round did him justice. Both focused mainly on his battles, death, and gloomy relic history.

    The first bio mentioned that in 2013, there was a movement to make King Edmund the patron saint of England.

    •In fact, King Edmund WAS the first patron saint of England! His banner was a cool white dragon on a field of red. This banner was carried by the English army into battle until King Edward III made St. George the patron saint.

    The 2013 campaign was actually the second such campaign. Although it was mostly in fun, the point was that there's doubt St. George ever set foot in England! And he was already the patron saint of six other countries.

    •The abbey of Bury St. Edmunds grew up around King Edmund's tomb, and became a major pilgrimage site. "For centuries Edmund’s resting place was patronised by the kings of England and the abbey became increasingly wealthy as the cult of St Edmund grew."

    •St. Edmund's shrine was the cradle of English law -- and, by extension, the legal codes of many other countries, including the U.S.:
    "Such was the influence of St Edmund that on St. Edmund’s Day in 1214 rebel English barons held a secret meeting here before going to confront King John with the Charter of Liberties, the forerunner to Magna Carta which he signed a year later. This event is reflected in the motto of Bury St Edmunds: ‘Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law’."

    I'm glad to stand for St. Edmund.

    (Quotes from "St Edmund, Original Patron Saint of England," by Ellen Castelow. )

    1. Thank you, Belle. I have visited the site of his Abbey and it is a beautiful and spiritual place. St. Edmund is the patron saint of my parish in San Marino, California and I would definitely support his reinstatement as the Patron Saint of England!

  18. I voted for Poor Edmund who travelled so much after he died. He must be exhausted in his eternal rest.

  19. I think one year the later rounds included a link back to each saint's first round bio. This was very helpful for easily getting a refresher on some basic facts. Would love to see this feature return!

    1. In a way there is. Just below the vote buttons and results are links to Recent Posts which include the most recent matchups - with their write-ups. I believe that if the match you’re looking for is further Bach you can use the archive button to search.

  20. I have to go with my East Anglian roots and vote for Edmund. Having visited Bury St. Edmunds when I lived in England, it just feels right. Plus, it’s home to my favourite English beer, Abbot Ale, brewed in Bury St. Edmunds: I am a traveller too, so wherever I end up is where I’ll be. Onwards and upwards, Edmund!

  21. While I really have appreciated the women who helped Christianity spread, and want to promote the achievements of each of them because their contributions have been muted by many historians who only told the story from a male viewpoint. However, I was at Bury St. Edmunds a few months ago. I read his story there. And now I read it again. When I think about the sheer courage and humble spirit it took to allow oneself to be shot full of arrows and still cling to his Christianity, I have to honor St. Edmunds. So I voted for him.