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Alphege, an Englishman born in 954, entered a monastery in Gloucestershire as a young man and quickly fell in love with Jesus Christ. Some years later he became a church leader in Bath, and when he was 30 he was chosen by St. Dunstan to become bishop of the city of Winchester. At first, Alphege refused the bishopric, considering himself too young for such responsibility. But he was keen, saintly, and well-liked, and Dunstan persuaded him to serve.
Burdened for Winchester’s poor, Alphege soon began organizing ministries of food and provision. Presently no beggars were reported anywhere in his diocese. In the process, however, Alphege nearly starved himself to death, becoming so thin that worshipers declared they could see through his hands when he uplifted them at Mass. They loved him all the more, and Alphege served as their pastor for 22 years.
When Aelfric, archbishop of Canterbury, died, Pope John XVIII chose Alphege as his successor. England was, at the time, in the throes of an invasion by the warring Danes, and shortly after Alphege became archbishop, Danish forces, assisted by the rebel earl, Edric, marched into Kent and attacked Canterbury. The city was trapped, and its leaders begged Alphege to escape for the good of England. The archbishop chose to remain with his encircled people.
The Danes breached the walls, burst upon the populace, and began plowing down young and old. Alphege rushed to the center of the carnage. Confronting the Danish commander, he demanded the massacre cease. Instead, he was seized, roughly handled, and thrown into a dungeon.
The Danes demanded a ransom from England for his release, but Alphege refused to be freed, declaring that his country was too poor to pay such a sum. He was taken to Greenwich where the invaders again sought a ransom. Alphege, again adamantly refusing, was murdered by the Danes during a drunken feast in 1012.
His body was later recovered and buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, then moved to Canterbury in 1023. Every year England remembers its faithful Christian martyr on April 19, the feast day of St. Alphege, archbishop of Canterbury.
I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth. My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God. Yes, I will see him for myself, and I long for that moment. (Job 19:25-27)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Apr. 19.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1054 – Death of Pope St. Leo IX. He was noted for efforts to end the practice of simony (buying of religious offices) and the practice of priests marrying. He also spent ten months in prison after his capture while leading an army against the Germans.
1854 – Nineteen-year-old English Baptist preacher, C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon, is called to pastor the New Park Chapel in London, one of the city’s largest churches.
1858 – Death in Philadelphia of evangelist Dudley Tyng, having suffered several days after an accident that mangled one of his arms. In the last sermon he had preached, he supposedly said words to the effect that he “would rather lose his right arm” than fail to share the gospel. Shortly before his death, he urges his father and ministerial brethren to “Stand up for Jesus”—words that will inspire the hymn “Stand up, Stand up for Jesus.”
1949 – Death of Maria José Azevedo, notable as a hard-working Nazarene evangelist in Cape Verde who fed and clothed many people from her own small earnings, while sustaining her own family. She had preached when no one else was available.
Accessed ChristianHistoryInstitute.org 18 April 2022.