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Died at Canterbury, England, c. 803-805. Some sources state that Saint Ethelhard was abbot of Louth in Lincolnshire and a bishop of Winchester, England, before he was elevated to archbishop of Canterbury; however, Farmer says that he was not bishop of Winchester. His elevation to Canterbury's episcopal throne occurred just after King Offa and the pope divided the see to establish that of Lichfield. At first Ethelhard was unacceptable to his Kentish flock because it had just fallen under the domination of Mercia.

In 796, Offa died, Kent revolted, and Ethelhard was forced to flee. Through the intervention of Blessed Alcuin (f.d. May 19), Ethelhard was restored to Canterbury the following year. In 802, Pope Saint Leo III re-established Canterbury to its former status, put aside the idea of moving the metropolitan see to London, and abolished the see of Lichfield.

Ethelhard convened the synod of Clovesho (Beccanceld) in 803, which mandated that each newly elected bishop make a written profession of orthodoxy and pledge obedience to his metropolitan bishop. The Anglo-Saxon Church held several Councils at Clovesho and some account of them may be read at

At his death Ethelhard was buried in Canterbury's cathedral, where he is venerated primarily for having overseen the restoration of the see. His was one of the Anglo-Saxon cults suppressed by the Norman Lanfranc because there were no written documents of his life. [Lanfranc was notoriously unsympathetic to any manifestations of the pre-Norman church in Britain.] When no later writer picked up the challenge, Ethelhard's cultus seems to have died. There are, however, extant letters from Alcuin and Pope Leo to Saint Ethelhard (Benedictines, Farmer).

Another Life

St. Aethelheard of Louth and Canterbury

On entering the Temple in Louth one is soon confronted by St. Aethelheard. In the icon on sees a patient, resilient and tough person. There is more than a slight hint of the inner life of a monk in his eyes. So who is he? He was the fourteenth Archbishop of Canterbury who died on 12th May, 805. Very little is known of his life before he became Archbishop but he is described as "Abbas Hludensis Monasterii", i.e. Abbot of the Monastery of Louth.

He lived through very troubled times. The powerful King Offa of Mercia (757-796) had enlarged his kingdom until there was only Mercia, Northumbria, and Wessex left in what we now know as England. The kingdom stretched down into Kent but to some extent the king felt threatened by Canterbury and its powerful Archbishop Jaenbert (766-791). The king decided to give his kingdom an independent Archdiocese based in Litchfield. This would weaken Canterbury's influence by dividing the province. This was successfully accomplished when the Papal Legates George and Theophylact, sent by Pope Hadrian I in 786-788 arrived. Bishop Higbert received the pallium (Archbishop's Omophorion) as Archbishop of Lichfield, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was left with only London, Winchester, Sherborne, Rochester, and Selsey as suffragan sees. On the death of Archbishop Jaenbert (12 Aug., 791), Aethelheard was moved from Louth to Canterbury through the direct influence of King Offa. He was clearly a man the King felt he could trust. Problems for Archbishop designate Aethelheard began immediately. Although he was elected in 791, his consecration and enthronement took place on 21 July, 793: the delay was almost certainly due to the clergy and faithful in Kent being most unwilling to have a foreign Archbishop. Then three years later the nobles of Kent rebelled against King Offa and their Archbishop and rallied round one Eadbert Praen, a priest and a member of their ex-royal house (what a strange priest this man must have been!). Life gradually became increasingly unbearable and dangerous. Although the famous St. Alcuin wrote furiously to St. Aethelheard telling him not to desert his Church, and after deposing and excommunication Eadbert Praen, the Archbishop was forced to flee to the continent. King Offa died on 26 July. His successor Egfrith died after a very short reign, about 13 Dec.; Cenwulf succeeded in Mercia, but the uprising continued in Kent until the capture of Eadbert in 798.

St. Aethelheard had been most helpful to King Cenwulf in deposing Eadbert, and in remaining loyal to him in Kent. This enormously increased his standing in the Royal court and as a result the Archbishopric of Lichfield began to look superfluous. The King wrote in 798 to Pope Leo asking him to look into the need for a second Archbishopric and enclosed a petition from Aethelheard and his suffragan Bishops. Meanwhile St. Aethelheard returned home and received another furious letter from St. Alcuin telling him to do penance for having left his Church. The King’s letter was received favourably and St. Aethelheard decided to set out for Rome in 801 to speak to his chief pastor himself. In Rome he was just as successful: Pope Leo III (795-816) solved the problem of Canterbury and Lichfield by returning Lichfield to a suffragan diocese. The Council of Clovesho on 12 Oct., 803, officially acknowledged the pope’s decision in presence of Cenwulf and his Witan (parliament). An unfortunate result of this was that Bishop Higbert was deprived of his pallium (Omophorion), in spite of Alcuin's plea that so good a man should not be humiliated.

So what makes St. Aethelheard so important for us? A number of things:

St. Aethelheard insisted that those who were to be made Bishop should make a formal profession of their Orthodox faith and obedience. This was enormously important in maintaining the teaching of the Church incorrupt and it had a second effect that affected the history of this land:

If King Offa had been successful in founding a permanent Archdiocese in Lichfield the attainment of national unity would have been set back by generations. With a unified Church (with York becoming a Metropolitan See UNDER Canterbury (!)) it was easier to make a spiritual unit a political one.

He is a local! There are no other communities or parishes with him as their patron. This is not as strange as it seems for, although his shrine was immensely popular until the Norman Invasion, both it and he were suppressed cruelly by the conquerors.

Holy father Aethelheard of Louth and Canterbury pray to God for us!

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