Edward the Confessor, son of Ethelred the Unready, was the only English king ever to be canonized a saint by the Church of Rome. Edward was the next to last Saxon king--but his successor, King Harold, did not enjoy the throne long. Just ten months after Edward’s death his Norman cousins invaded England and claimed the crown.
Edward had himself spent much of his life in Normandy. The fierce Viking Danes had invaded England just as Edward was entering his teens. They had removed his father from the throne, so he fled with his mother and brother to Normandy, which was then ruled by Edward’s uncle. There Edward came under the influence of the Norman monks and submitted himself to the rigors of a devout Christian life. The British church--rooted in ancient Celtic traditions--had always functioned quite independently of the Bishops in Rome. So, now Edward was exposed to an entirely new perspective of the faith--one that affected him profoundly. He vowed to make a pilgrimage to Rome; but his half brother died suddenly, and Edward was proclaimed king before he could fulfill his vow.
Edward never proved to be a particularly dynamic or visionary leader. He left most of the actual work of government to his lords, dukes, and earls. Nevertheless, it was evident that he fervently desired the good of his people. He was charitable, compassionate, gracious, and free from personal vanity. His piety became legendary. At the end of his life, Edward built a monastery dedicated to St. Peter in a little village adjacent to London in order to satisfy the vow of pilgrimage he had made but was never able to fulfill. The church, which took more than fifteen years to build, was built in the grand style of churches attached to the royal palaces in Normandy. Today it is known as Westminster Abbey.
Edward died on this day, 1066, just one week after the church was dedicated, and he was buried there the next day--events that were later memorialized on the famed Bayeux Tapestry. On December 25, 1066, his cousin, William the Conqueror from Normandy, was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey, and the church has continued to this day as the Coronation Church of the British monarchy.