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, 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.