Alphege’s story is a fascinating one. D.H. Farmer summarises it in the ‘Oxford dictionary of saints’. This is a long quote, but Alphege’s life (and death) were so extraordinary I really didn’t feel I could edit any part of it out:
ALPHEGE (1) (Ælfheah, Elphege) (c.953-1012), archbishop of Canterbury and martyr. He became a monk at Deerhurst (Glos.), but after some years retired to be a hermit in Somerset. Dunstan appointed him abbot of Bath, a community largely composed of Alphege’s former disciples. In 984 he became bishop of Winchester.
in succession to Ethelwold; he became known for personal austerity and lavish almsgiving. In 994 Ethelred the Unready sent Alphege to parley with the Danes Anlaf and Swein, who had raided both London and Wessex. The Anglo Saxons paid tribute, but Anlaf became a Christian and promised he would never again come to England ‘with warlike intent’. This promise was kept.
In 1006 Alphege succeeded Aelfric as archbishop of Canterbury and received the pallium at Rome. Meanwhile Ethelred had proved unable to defeat or even control the Danish invaders. In 1011 they overran much of southern England; the Danegeld tribute paid to them did not prevent them from further pillage and other acts of war. In September they besieged Canterbury, and captured it through the treachery of an Anglo Saxon archdeacon Ælfmaer. For seven months they imprisoned Alphege with other magnates and demanded ransom. This was paid for the other prisoners, but the sum required for the archbishop was the enormous one of £3,000. Alphege refused to pay and forbade his people to do so. The Danes were so infuriated that. after a feast at which they got drunk, they killed him with the bones of oxen: an axeman delivered the final blow. This took place at Greenwich; Alphege was buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. By his death he became a national hero.
When Cnut became king of England (1016) his policy, after a short period of violence, was one of reconciliation be. tween AngloSaxon and Dane. This found expression in the endowment of the abbey of *Edmund at Bury, and in the translation of the body of Alphege to Canterbury (1023). It was buried to the north of the high altar, where the monks venerated it for long afterwards at the beginning and end of each day.
Although the feast was present in several regional calendars of preConquest England. Lanfranc (archbishop of Canterbury 1070-89) questioned his cult, particularly as a martyr. He consulted Anselm. who replied that Alphege was a martyr for justice as John the Baptist was a martyr for truth. Eventually Lanfranc confirmed the cult and commissioned the Canterbury monk Osbern to write a Life and Office in his honour.
The discovery that the body of Alphege was incorrupt (1105) led to an increase in the cult, while in his last sermon Thomas Becket alluded to Alphege as Canterbury’s first martyr, and just before his death commended his cause to Cod and St. Alphege. In the long run, however, the Becket cult overshadowed that of Alphege. Feasts: 19 April (all over England); Ordination (16 November) and Translation (8 June) at Canterbury.
Farmer, D.H., ‘The Oxford dictionary of saints’, (1997), via EBSCOhost [accessed 15 April 2012].