Archbishop of Canterbury Martyred by Vikings
The first if not the last Archbishop of Canterbury to die violently, Alphege met his unpleasant end in Greenwich, then a Viking stronghold.
According to the stories related about him Alphege rose through piety to be firstly Bishop of Winchester , a very significant role in Saxon times, and then Archbishop of Canterbury , then as now the most senior post in the English church. In 1011 he was captured in his bishopric by a Danish raiding army after a siege lasting three weeks. The Vikings had of late exacted crippling Danegelds and ransoms on the Saxons in England, and the pious Alphege didn’t wish to see his fellow-countrymen further impoverished, so he communicated instructions from his captivity that no ransom be paid for his life.
After more than six months the Danes holding him in Greenwich lost patience, and a drunken mob apparently held a mock trial before doing him to death in a very unusual way – the Vikings could be creative in their violence as King Edmund had found in 869 : they threw the leg-bones of cattle, and cattle skulls, at the bound bishop until he was finally put out of his misery with the butt end of an axe, according to one version this blow delivered by a Christian convert among the Norsemen as an act of mercy. St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich is said to stand on the site of the martyrdom.
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