We like to believe that people who do good will be rewarded. And often, they do win acclaim for what they do. But sometimes, people who do good, must pay with their lives through martyrdom.
That's what happened to St. Alphege or Elphege. As a young man, he went to Gloucestershire in southwest central England, to become a Benedictine monk at Deerhurst Monastery. Later, he decided to be a hermit at Bath in southwest England, where he soon was named abbot, and imposed a strict rule on his monks.
Despite his objections, in 984, at the age of 30, he was named Bishop of Winchester in southern England. While he undertook severe fasts, he made sure the poorest people in his diocese were not hungry and he is said to have eliminated begging.
In 994, at the request of King Ethelred the Unready, Alphege succeeded in converting several Danish warlords -- who often raided the country -- and convinced them to live in peace.
He was named the Archbishop of Canterbury in southeast England in 1005. After his appointment, he went to Rome to receive the pallium -- the white woolen band the pope and archbishops wear over their chasubles as symbols of their office -- from Pope John XVIII.
In 1010, the Danes invaded again, this time attacking Canterbury under the leadership of the rebel Earl Edric. Despite the danger, Alphege refused to leave the city.
After the Danes captured Canterbury, Alphege went to them and asked them to stop pillaging and looting the city and killing the citizens. They responded by throwing him in the dungeon.
After the outbreak of an epidemic among the Danes, his captors released him to minister to the sick. But they rearrested him when he refused to pay or allow others to pay an exorbitant ransom of 3,000 gold crowns for his permanent release.
They took him to Greenwich and executed him. His body was buried in London until 1023 when the Danish king, Canute, had the body brought to Canterbury.
Later, one of his successors as Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc, asked if Alphege was really a martyr since he hadn't died specifically for the faith. Yes, replied St. Anselm, who argued that dying for justice is martyrdom.
While good deeds are not always properly rewarded in this world, we can be confident that they will be in the next.
(Sources: All Saints, Butler's Lives of the Saints and Dictionary of Saints.)
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