The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/18 – Our Lady converts the Vikings in England

The Danes, the Swedes and the Norwegians were collectively termed as the ‘Vikings’ or the ‘Nordic people.’ In the period 800-1100, they raided large areas of Eastern and Western Europe. Referred to as the ‘Heathens from the Sea,’ they initially were not considered to be as dangerous as land invaders. The Vikings believed in Odin, in Thor, in Balder and in the land of the Valhalla. Later, the Carlovingian (Carolingian) French, the Celtic and Saxon people seriously contended with these races. In England, the first Christian settlements to be raided were the monasteries, such as the monastery founded by the Irish Saint Aiden at Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, off the northeast coast of England. In the ensuing battles involving the English as they defended their land and their Christian identity against the pagan Vikings, two English royal monarchs, King Edmund and King Alfred (the founder of the British Navy), achieved sainthood. In 839, following an angelic message of dire warning for the English Kingdom, delivered to a priest, King Ethelwulf left on a penitential pilgrimage to Rome. The angel made known to Ethelwulf that the sins of the Christians of his land, “…were crying out in their iniquity and that the prayers of the saints could no longer stay the justice of heaven.”(1) If the people were not to turn swiftly to repentance, fasting and almsgiving and worship the true God, keeping His Holy Day, then hordes of heathen would descend upon their land with a multitude of ships and lay waste the lands and the English with fire and sword.
The invasions of the Vikings commenced in 840.

King Alfred the Great was born in 849. At age four, King Alfred, was taken on pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by a retinue of nobles and servants. In Rome Saint Leo IV adopted Alfred as his spiritual son, making him a Roman Consul, arming him with a sword and a white and purple cloak and favoring him with a spiritual kingship. Together with his father, Alfred revisited Rome in 855, where at the tomb of the Roman martyrs, King Ethelwulf prayed for the salvation of his land. During his childhood, Alfred learnt the daily services and hours and many psalms by heart. He kept all his spiritual readings in a book, which he used well into adulthood. Alfred was a great devotee of Saint Cuthbert and Our Lady. The Prince suffered from an illness and one day whilst hunting, he stopped to pray at Saint Gwinear Church in Cornwall. There he prayed to have his illness replaced by a less crippling one, which would not make him useless to the kingdom. His prayer was granted and at age nineteen, on his wedding day, whilst marrying Elswith a daughter of a nobleman from Mercia, he received a new illness. As Alfred reached adulthood, the Danes invaded with fleets of up to three hundred and fifty ships. Most parts of England, including Kent, Essex, East Anglia and Devon, where overrun by the pagans. The Vikings ransacked towns and cities and laid waste the monasteries and churches. King Ethelwulf was succeeded by his sons, a few ruled well and others less wisely. It was during the time of King Ethelred, in the year 867, that Alfred supported his brother in warfare.

Saint Edmund was born on Christmas day in 841 and succeeded to the throne of East Anglia in 856. He fought alongside King Alfred against the invading pagans. In 869, a large Viking Army landed in England and Edmund was captured and ordered to renounce his Faith and submit to the heathen Danes. His reply was that he had vowed to live under Christ alone and to reign under Christ alone and that living or dead, nothing would separate him from the love of Christ. In this manner he repeated Saint George’s affirmation, quoting Saint Paul’s Romans 8:35-37. Similarly to Saint Sebastian, he was bound to a tree and riddled with arrows and later beheaded. His martyrdom took place on November 20, 869, at Hoxne in Suffolk. In 902, King Edmund’s relics were found incorrupt and translated to a town, which to this day bears his name, ‘Bury Saint Edmunds’ or ‘Saint Edmundsbury.’ Certain relics of the Saint were taken to France and returned to the Roman Catholic authorities in England in 1901. Today King Edmund’s relics are kept locked away at a private Catholic Chapel in Arundel in Sussex. In 871, the Danes intended to pillage Berkshire in Wessex. The English Catholics were successful in a skirmish at Englefield but lost at Reading. At Ashdown on the Berkshire Hills, Alfred and Ethelred defeated the heathen Vikings. Previous to battle, Alfred prayed to the Lord and was granted victory. However, he subsequently lost battles at Basing and in Wiltshire. At this point when things were not well for the Catholic English, a fresh Viking Army arrived from Denmark to reinforce the present one. During Easter of 871, King Ethelred passed away leaving the defense and the kingdom in the hands of the newly crowned, twenty-three year old King Alfred. During the same year, the King conducted nine battles against the pagans. After sustaining great losses, Alfred paid the Vikings a ‘denegeld’ or ransom for them to leave. This payment allowed a period of calm to reign in the beleaguered Wessex, lasting from 872 to 875. Alfred was granted enough time to reorganize the army and navy. The pagan Danes would not quit and ravaged London and the south of Scotland. Wessex alone remained under English control. Invoking the Lord for assistance, Alfred fought a naval battle against the Danes and was victorious. The Vikings had a fleet of 120 ships, which were wrecked in a storm off Swanage; they invaded Wareham in Dorset, Exeter in Devon, Gloucester and the royal estate in Chippenham, destroying and pillaging churches and all opposition as they progressed. In 878, Alfred was taken by surprise by a large Viking Army and sought refuge. A third invasion of Wessex, forced Alfred and a band of his ablest men to rove among the woods and the marshes of Somerset. Their morale must have reached an all time low when they were obliged to forage from local peasants for food. The band retreated through the alder forests and reedy marshes, camping on the Island of Athelney, where they built a stronghold. From there the King planned and plotted against the heathen menace.

At Athelny, things began to improve, the King received a vision from a deceased priest and holy hermit named Neot assuring him victory. A pilgrim had inquired for food and out of his generosity, Alfred offered him half of his own. Before the King’s eyes the pilgrim vanished, the mysterious guest was Saint Cuthbert who appeared in vision, assuring the King and pledging victory with the words: “All Albion is given to you and your sons.”(2) As in previous situations, Alfred invoked the aid of the Blessed Virgin and her Son Our Lord, for a sure victory. The first battle won was against a fleet at Countisbury. The most famous victory took place at Edington and is remembered as ‘the Battle of Ethandune.’ Alfred fought an impressively huge army of Vikings and won by God’s will and Our Lady’s intervention. The Battle of Ethandune took place in 878 and was the turning point for Catholic England. Following Ethandune, Guthrum, similarly to the Viking convert in France (Rollo the Norman), made a pact of peace with the Christians. Finally, at Chippenham a peace-treaty (referred to as the Treaty of Wedmore) was made with the Vikings. Guthrum retained for himself Northumbria and was baptized together with many other Viking leaders at Aller in Somerset. Taking the noble English name ‘Athelstan,’ King Alfred stood as his godfather. Evidently this was only possible through the powerful intercession of Our Lady of Mercy, who manifests God’s Mercy in diverse ways. During the times of peace and conversion, the Vikings were accepted amongst the local population and were the founders of towns such as York in England and Dublin in Ireland. The Danes now retreated and others settled in peace and the Catholic spirit of England was gradually restored.

Queen Elswith was to survive her husband, King Alfred, and complete his work of building the convent or ‘Nunnaminster’ in Winchester, which was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. There she lived and died and after her passing away, was revered as a saint.

In Gilbert K. Chesterton’s ‘The Ballad of the White Horse,’(3) Chesterton describes the ‘Mother of God’ appearing to Alfred:

 

“Her face was like an open word

When brave men speak and choose,

The very colors of her coat

Were better than good news.”

She sends Alfred to raise an army to fight off the Danes.

“The King looked up, and what he saw

Was a great light like death,

For Our Lady stood on the standard’s rent,

As lovely and as innocent

As when beneath white walls she went

In the lilies of Nazareth.”

Later:

“Over the iron forest

He saw Our Lady stand;

Her eyes were sad withouten art,

And seven swords were in her heart,

But one was in her hand.

The Mother of God goes over them (the Vikings)

On dreadful Cherubs borne;

And the psalm is roaring above the rune,

And the Cross goes over the sun and moon;

Endeth the Battle of Ethandune

With the blowing of the horn.”

 

Previous to King Henry VIII, numerous abbeys consecrated to the Catholic Saints, especially to Our Lady marked England. Walsingham, an ancient site of Catholic English pilgrimage, was a place where medieval poems and carols were sung in her honor. “Let all who are in any way distressed or in need seek me there in that small house that you maintain for me at Walsingham. To all that seek me there shall be given succor,”(4) these were the words of the Virgin in her apparition at Walsingham. In 1061, she appeared to Lady Richeldis de Faverches, asking her to build a replica in Norfolk of the Holy House where Our Lady received the Annunciation of Christ’s Birth. The Abbey of Walsingham was the result. The abbey was founded in the times of Saint Edward the Confessor. In the Middle Ages, it was one of the greatest and one of the most sought after pilgrimage sites in all of Europe. Many English kings conducted pilgrimages to Walsingham, Henry III went on pilgrimage in 1241, Edward I in 1280 and in 1296, Edward II in 1315, Henry VI in 1455, Henry VII in 1487, Queen Isabella and King Robert Bruce of Scotland also visited the abbey. The last royalty to visit was Henry VIII, who made three pilgrimages to Walsingham in honor of ‘Our Lady of Walsingham,’ before leading England astray in 1534. The Walsingham Abbey was not spared and was destroyed in the blind and unjust Protestant reforms; the Statue of Mary was burned a few years later. In 1897, Pope Leo XIII refounded the ancient shrine and in 2000 the Feast of ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’ was reinstated on September 24.

In 1184, during the Norman Conquest, a disastrous fire consumed the chapel of yet another abbey; the one dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Glastonbury.’ The conflagration consumed the entire chapel except for the Statue of Our Lady. It was recorded that the statue, including her veil, were spared. As a sign of the miraculous nature of the event, blisters rose upon the statue’s face as would happen to a living person. In 1539, the Abbot Richard Whiting and two of his monks, Roger James and John Thorn, were hanged, drawn and quartered for not recognizing King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. In the 1540/50’s the statue was smashed by the reformers, a certain William Goals carried out the obscene and dastardly act. In recent times, Pope Leo XIII beatified the Abbot Richard Whiting and monks. On July 10, 1955, the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop O’Hara, performed the blessing and papal coronation of ‘Our Lady of Glastonbury.’

An article appearing in CatholicLife magazine (October 2007) titled “Our Lady of Westminister and the ‘Dowry of Mary,’” written by Christine Waters describes how the English tradition regarding ‘Our Lady’s Dowry’ beginning with King Edward the Confessor, during those times when the Holy House of Walsingham and Westminister Abbey were established, has a historical basis. According to the article’s author ‘Our Lady of the Pew’ was venerated by King Edward III and his family in a building overlooking the Thames River called the Chapel of St. Stephen. A richly adorned statue of Our Lady of the Pew was present during King Edwards’s times (1355) and during King Henry III’s rule (1250), when devotion to Our Lady of the Pew in Westminister Palace was referred to as “the chapel in the King’s garden.” A second statue was donated by Countess Marie de St Paul in the 1370s and placed in the Benedictine Abbey of Westminister. This second statue became an object of veneration by the general public and it seems that this devotion might have surpassed Walsingham. The author cleverly points out the following, that the year 1380 was crucial for defining the tradition that Our Lady was the seat of power and authority in England. The English tradition of England as being Our Lady’s Dowry (up to the year 1380) must be quickly mentioned in point form. First on the list is the Glastonbury details of the wattle chapel dedicated to Our Lady and of Joseph of Arimathea’s (Our Lady’s uncle) burying place, secondly England was the place where the Christian Emperor Constantine was first acclaimed Augustus, thirdly the details regarding the devotion of King Arthur or Arturus to Our Lady, later followed King Alfred the Great’s victory at Ethandune by way of Our Lady’s intercession and lastly, William the Conqueror’s Norman crusade to England bearing a Papal banner of Our Lady given to him by the Roman Pontiff himself, however more must be added to these events. During William the Conqueror’s time there exists a story relating to the Immaculate Conception which is described in Chapter 19. There also exists the obvious element of St George as being Our Lady’s Knight battling the Dragon/Devil, (representing England battling the might of ancient Rome) however, the influence of the French Kings’ devotions to Our Lady and this influence on England should also be taken into consideration. Christine Waters argues that the devotion of Our Lady of the Pew was greatly established and venerated by both the Royal Family and the English populace by the year 1380.

Interestingly the word ‘Pew’ is associated with the French word ‘Puissant’ or ‘Powerful’ and also associated with the French Shrine of Our Lady of Le Puy in Auvergne. This title also means ‘Virgin of Strong Support’ or ‘Virgo Potens.’

Therefore, by 1380 Our Lady’s power at protecting and delivering the English Nation was evident by the devotion to Our Lady of the Pew at Westminister: “…the ancient seat of government and authority.” However, the public dedication of England to Our Lady occurred in 1381 when after Mass and praying before the statue of Our Lady of the Pew, King Richard II successfully quelled a rebel army referred to as the Peasant’s Revolt. He carried St George’s banner and following his victory as a votive offering, placed this banner at the feet of the statue at Westminister. He publically placed his Kingdom under Our Lady’s protection. These victories and events should be seriously taken into consideration by the frequenters of 60 Great Queen Street London, as Our Lady is the true protector of England unlike her nemesis the Dragon/Devil, the Grand Architect of the Universe. But alas, the battle between the followers of Our Lady and of her enemy raged and during the Masonically enlightened years of the French Revolution a painting which was commissioned by King Richard II, of himself and his Queen presenting England to Our Lady which bore the inscription “Dos tua Virgo pia haec est” or “This is your dowry, pious Virgin” was destroyed at the English College at Rome in 1798.

On February 10, 1399, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a mandate which fulfilled the wish of King Richard II to place the Kingdom under her protection. The mandate read as follows, “The contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation has brought all Christian nations to venerate her from whom came the beginnings of redemption. But we, as the humble servents of her inheritance, and liegemen of her especial dower (as we are approved by common parlance) ought to excel all others in the favour of our praises and devotion to her.”(5) Evidently this was an early form of consecration of England to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The most amazing details regarding these events are the facts that Our Lady chose England during William the Conqueror’s times to strengthen the devotion to her Immaculate Conception in the west and even more striking the fact that the date given above regarding the ‘consecration’ of England to Our Lady (February 10) is the eve of the Catholic Feast-day dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, where in our modern times Our Lady publically declared herself as being the Immaculate Conception!

 

 

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