Severed Arm of Saint Edmund
How did the right arm of a 13th-century English bishop wind up in a Connecticut church?
The Society of the Fathers and Brothers of St. Edmund won’t soon forget their patron saint, as they are responsible for the care of St. Edmund’s parched and decaying arm. Edmund himself would probably be happy that his right arm is used to inspire, but how did the right hand of a 13th-century European saint end up in Mystic, Connecticut?
The saint was a stickler for symbolism and divine inspiration. He was born in the 13th century and attended Oxford and the University of Paris. During his time teaching at Oxford, a vision of the Christ Child appeared to him as he walked alone in the fields. Every night after that experience, he marked his forehead with the words “Jesus of Nazareth” to remind him of the interaction and the message that Christ delivered to him. He became a clergyman and took a very serious vow of chastity, and he acquired two rings as inspiration to uphold that vow: one for himself to permanently wear, and the other to grace the finger of the “Our Lady’s” statue in St. Mary’s, Oxford.
Edmund quickly rose through the clerical ranks and became Archbishop of Canterbury, the most esteemed position of the English Catholic Church. With a powerful title, he persistently voiced his objections to the actions Henry III, which brought him into ongoing conflict with the king and Pope Gregory IX. He refused to support the immorality of English rule and eventually resigned from his position and fled to France to live the rest of his days. After his death, St. Edmund’s tomb became a pilgrimage site. Edmund himself became a source of inspiration, and miracles were reported at his tomb in France.
Reverend Jean Baptiste Muard founded the Society of the Fathers and Brothers of Saint Edmund in the 19th century and became responsible for the relics of Saint Edmund, but he found that the arm had been detached for centuries. The Edmundites were driven out of France because of “government anti-clericalism” in 1903. They relocated to England, and then to Mystic, Connecticut, taking the arm with them around the world.
The blackened, shriveled arm of Saint Edmund now resides in the Chapel of Our Lady of Assumption at Saint Edmund’s Retreat in Mystic. The severed arm juts out of a red sleeve, displayed in an oblong glass container in the chapel.
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