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(entered heaven sometime in 793)
How adolescent of you to stop believing in miracles. Just because you are entering the ranks of the world’s great scientists (though I do hope you remember that you are entering at the LOWER ranks, ahem…) doesn’t mean you have to embrace their embarrassing foibles. It is unreasonable to abandon your faith in the Creator as you enter into a greater understanding of his creation. Would a Michelangelo fan’s love for art decrease the more he learned about how the great artist produced his works? You need a quick refresher about what’s really going on in the world. Today’s saint can help.
Ethelbert was granted a deep faith from a very young age. He showed how deep it was by the choices he made. By temperament and personal preference, he would have picked the religious life – he had a penchant for prayer and contemplation. But he was next in line to take over the scepter of East Anglia (in England) from his father, Ethelred. For the good of the Kingdom and for peace in the family, therefore, he ascended the throne. He was to rule, justly and energetically, for 44 years. (By the way, the secret to his political greatness was a truly Christian motto that would serve today’s leaders well: the higher someone’s station in life, the humbler he should be.)
Also by temperament and personal preference, he would have liked to stay celibate. But this was clearly going to cause strife after his death, so he agreed to take a wife. Hearing of the exemplary virtue and faith of the Mercian Princess Alfrida, he went to visit her father’s court and ask for her hand. Unfortunately, Alfrida’s mother, Quendreda, drunk with ambition, had him murdered during his stay, hoping that his crown would be taken over by her husband. Thus ended a righteous rule – but it wasn’t the end of the story.
To cover up the murder, they buried his body in the woods, like a piece of trash. But a supernatural light soon shone around it, and the people discovered what had happened. They moved the body, eventually, into the Hereford Cathedral. During the move, his head actually became separated from the corpse, fell off the cart, bounced onto the ground and touched a pedestrian who had been blind for eleven years. The blind man was miraculously cured. Further miracles were reported at Ethelbert’s Hereford tomb (and at Westminster Cathedral, where his head was enshrined).
I think there’s a connection here between these remarkable (and remarkably well-attested) miracles and Ethelbert’s motto. Humility means, among other things, admitting that you’re not God, which in turn opens up the possibility that God can intervene in wonderful and extraordinary ways in his universe. That’s an important lesson – not just for great kings, but also for great scientists.
Your loving uncle,