Saint of the Day – 30 April – Saint Erconwald of London (Died c 693) “The Light of London” – Bishop, Monk, Abbot, Confessor, known as a miracle-worker, founder of a Monastery and Convent – born in the 7th century in East Anglia, Enland and died in c 693 in London. He was the Bishop of London between 675 and 693, until his death. Patronages – of London, against gout. Also known as Earconvaldo, Erkenwald, Erkenwold, Erkonwald.
Saint Erconwald was born at “Stallyngeton in Lindsey” (possibly Stallingborough, near Grimsby) in the early seventh century. His father is variously described as Anna or Offa, King of East Anglia and a pagan. Erconwald was converted to Christianity at an early age by St Mellitus, the companion of Augustine and first Bishop of London. He then converted his younger sister Ethelburga and Baptised her, much to the fury of their father. Ethelburga eventually fled her parents’ home with one servant to escape being forced into marriage with a pagan.
In the year 666 Erconwald founded the Monastery of Chertsey, on an island in the Thames, apparently at the junction of several kingdoms. It is described as being founded in the reign of King Egbert, King of Kent . The foundation was confirmed and richly endowed, by Frithwald, Viceroy of Surrey, under Wulfhere King of Mercia. The Viceroy put himself and his son under obedience to Erconwald in return for prayers. Wulfhere confirmed this endowment. There is a further charter of Frithwald and Erconwald, to increase the lands of the Monastery.
Shortly after this Erconwald founded a Convent at Barking in Essex, intended to be a refuge for his sister Ethelburga. The foundation charter, countersigned by Hodilred, King of Essex, provides us with a specimen of the saint’s handwriting. In the course of building the house at Barking one beam was found to be too short and was miraculously extended to the correct length by Erconwald and his sister.
Erconwald remained as Abbot of Chertsey until 675 when he was Consecrated third Bishop of London by St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury. St Erconwald appears to have been the first resident Bishop and probably began the building of St Paul’s, although traditionally this was adapted from a pagan temple of old Londinium. In 677 he visited Rome and obtained a number of privileges for his Diocese and Monastery from Pope Agatho I.
During his time as Bishop, Erconwald became noted for miracles and for evangelisation. He instructed St Neot, afterwards of Crowland Abbey and the two Kings of Essex, Sebbi and Sigheri, the former of whom afterwards became a Hermit in St Paul’s under Erconwald’s successor Waldhere.
In 690 Erconwald was summoned, together with St Wilfrid, to the deathbed of St Theodore. Both ministered to him but Theodore was more concerned to speak to Wilfrid, whom he wished to succeed him. In 692 King Ine of Wessex mentions his “Father Erconwald” who assisted him in codifying the Laws of Wessex.
Thus Erconwald is associated with the Kings of East Anglia, Mercia, Essex, Wessex and Kent, all of whom seem to have had interests centering in the Chertsey area. The King of Sussex, Æthelwealh, was godson to Wulfhere of Mercia, so six of the Seven Kingdoms are involved in his story.
Towards the end of his life Erconwald was confined to a wheelchair, about which many stories are told. On one occasion a raging river parted to allow the Saint to cross in his chair, on another one wheel fell off but the chair miraculously did not upset. After his death many miracles of the curing of illnesses were worked by the same wheelchair.
In 693 Brithwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated Waldhere as fourth Bishop of London, so it seems likely that Erconwald died in that year, on 30 April. He died while on retreat at Barking Abbey and there was the usual unseemly dispute over who should have the burying of him, between Barking, Chertsey and London. The Canons of St Paul’s prevailed and despite a last-ditch attempt by the nuns of Barking, succeeded in capping their miracle with a greater. (The nuns prayed for rain to swell the river at Ilford to make it impossible for the cortege to cross and to extinguish the candles but the men of London persuaded the candles to relight and the river to part again so that they crossed dry-shod.) Despite all this he was buried in a common earthen grave where he remained until 1087 when a fire destroyed the Cathedral and everything in it, except the coffin containing his remains. These were then translated to a splendid new shrine behind the high altar, where they remained right up to the Great Fire of London of 1666, despite the depredations of the Reformation. He was venerated throughout the Middle Ages and today his Memorial is 30 April with further celebration remembering him on the Translations of his relics, being celebrated on 1 February and 13 May.