Refusing to Play the Game

Today the church remembers the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die by martyrdom (but certainly not the last): St. Alphege, Bishop, Martyr, and Resistor.

St. Alphege was born in the year 954 and, having been raised in the faith, became a Benedictine monk. He served as the prior of the abbey at Bath, and then as Archbishop of Canterbury in the days when Viking attacks were rampant on the island.

In the year 1012, Viking raiders captured Canterbury. Alphege pleaded with the marauders to spare the town, but the Vikings did not listen. They pillaged the town, killed many of the people, burned the cathedral, and kept Alphege as their hostage.

From the remaining townspeople the Vikings demanded a ransom in exchange for Alphege’s freedom. Alphege knew his townspeople were poor, and refused to play their game, choosing imprisonment in perpetuity. The Vikings, incensed by his refusal, stoned Alphege. One Viking, a Thorkell the Tall, attempted to shield the Bishop from the blows, but the raiders ultimately prevailed.

St. Alphege died on this day in the year 1012.

St. Alphege is a reminder for me, and should be for everyone, that sometimes you prevent cycles of injustice by simply refusing to play the games of the powerful any longer.

-historical notes from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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