Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Feast of St Felix

East Anglia is a funny old place. It has been perched on the edge of England, watching the seasons come and go, the water-levels rise and fall, for many centuries. 

Britain was a Christian nation. The British people were Christian, and the Roman government was also Christian. In fact, Britain had already produced a notable theologian, Pelagius, who turned out to be a heretic, and whose ideas are, apparently, long-lasting. 

St Felix of Dunwich
In Rome, the Empire was beginning to crumble under its own weight, and so, the authorities deemed it necessary to consolidate its far-flung dependencies, and so, Britain, much sought after by numerous Emperors, was abandoned (that's the primary school version, anyway). The British Christians were soon overrun by marauding pagans from the east, and much of their ancient lands - in what we now call England - were transformed into German-speaking kingdoms; the British clinging to the rocks of the west-coast, staunchly defending the faith. 

One of these early Germanic kingdoms, East Engla, quickly became the richest nation, governed by the powerful Wuffing dynasty, who ruled the kingdom from 571 to 794 (St Edmund was from another dynasty).

At the turn of the seventh century, a new Wuffing king came to power in East Anglia, whose name was Sigebhert. There was something different about him, however, for he was a Christian, and a good one too, it seems. Not only did he seek to evanglise his new kingdom, but he sought to improve the conditions of his people, particularly through education (dark ages my foot!). He appealed to the Metropolitan, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, at this time, was Honorius. After, I'm sure, much prayer and discernment, he summoned a Burgundian monk called Felix, who had expressed a desire to bring the Gospel to the English people of the east. [Burgundy was a powerful Frankish duchy which, at its height, stretched from Switzerland to Belgium] Felix was commanded to found a new See in East Anglia.

This bishop, who had been born and consecrated in Burgundy, came to Archbishop Honorius, to whom he expressed his longings; so the archbishop sent him to preach the word of life to this nation of the Angles. Nor were his wishes in vain, for the devoted husbandman reaped an abundant harvest of believers in this spiritual field. Indeed, as his name signified, he freed the whole of this kingdom from long-lasting evil and unhappiness, brought it to the faith and to the works of righteousness and bestowed on it the gift of everlasting felicity. He received the seat of his bishopric in the city of Dunwich; and when he had ruled over the kingdom as bishop for seventeen years, he ended his life there in peace. (Bede, Ecclesiastical History, II-15)

He worked tirelessly with King Sigebhert, and, for a period, with the Irish monk, St Fursy, to re-establish Christianity, reconciling his own Roman Christianity with the pre-existing Christianity in the kingdom, which stretched as far as the Fens. Because of the status held by the kingdom, Felix exercised much influence throughout England, and among his brother bishops and missioners.

The saintly bishop died on this day in 648, and devotion to him quickly spread through the land. His body was interred in Soham, and, later, translated to Ramsey. He is remembered today, not only as the first Bishop of East Anglia, but as a zealous missionary and defender of the faith. 

We East Anglian seminarians are unable to keep his feast today liturgically, as he is not commemorated in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, though we celebrate with you in spirit today!

Happy Feast!

1 comment:

Lucy said...

Happy feast to you also. May God bless you in your studies and may St Felix pray for you that you can one day follow in his footsteps as priests and evangelists.