October 26 – Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899

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About this commemoration

Alfred, alone of all English rulers, has been called “the Great,” because of his courage and Christian virtues. Born in 849 at Wantage, Berkshire, the youngest of five sons of King Aethelwulf, Alfred spent his life in a time of “battle, murder, and sudden death” during the Viking invasions and settlement in Britain. He was deeply impressed when, on a visit to Rome at the age of four, he was blessed by Pope Leo IV, and two years later when he witnessed the marriage of Aethelwulf to a young princess of the Frankish court. Following his father’s death and the short reigns of his brothers, Alfred became King in 871.

In heroic battles and by stratagems against the Danes, Alfred halted the tide of their invasion, and secured control of the southern, and part of the midland regions, of England for the English. After a decisive victory in 878 at Edington over the Danish leader Guthrum, he persuaded his foe to accept baptism. Alfred died on October 26, 899, and was buried in the old Minster at Winchester.

In his later years, Alfred sought to repair the damage that the Viking invasions had inflicted on culture and learning, especially among the parish clergy. With the help of scholars from Wales and the Continent, he supervised translations into English of important classics of theology and history, including works of Pope Gregory the Great, Augustine of Hippo, and the Venerable Bede. In one of them he commented: “He seemed to me a very foolish man, and very wretched, who will not increase his understanding while he is in the world, and ever wish and long to reach that endless life where all shall be made clear.”


I  O Sovereign Lord, who didst bring thy servant Alfred to a troubled throne that he might establish peace in a ravaged land and revive learning and the arts among the people: Awake in us also, we beseech thee, a keen desire to increase our understanding while we are in this world, and an eager longing to reach that endless life where all will be made clear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  O Sovereign Lord, you brought your servant Alfred to a troubled throne that he might establish peace in a ravaged land and revive learning and the arts among the people: Awake in us also a keen desire to increase our understanding while we are in this world, and an eager longing to reach that endless life where all will be made clear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 21:1-7

Lessons:  Wisdom 6:1–3,9–12,24–25, 2 Thessalonians 2:13–17, and Luke 6:43–49

Preface of Baptism

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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7 thoughts on “October 26 – Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899

  1. The collect would flow better with fewer adjectives. ‘Troubled throne’ and ‘ravaged land’ both make the same point, so one of the two could be dropped there; and ‘keen’ could probably be dropped from the petition without loss of meaning, while the remaining word ‘desire’ surely also includes the idea of ‘eager longing’, so the latter could be dropped too. And I believe ‘awaken’ is correct, rather than ‘awake’: so ‘awaken in us a desire to increase our understanding while in this world, and to reach that endless life where all will be made clear’. It’s a wonderful petition, though, however you word it.

  2. Hebrew reading: Though not new to this commemoration, should this be titled ‘Wisdom of Solomon’ rather than just Wisdom?

  3. What is being quoted in the first paragraph? And wouldn’t it be historically accurate to cal him Anglo-Saxon rather than Enlgish?

    What is the referent for “one of them” in the last sentence?

    • English is correct. Alfred and his successors were the first to unite most of what we think of as England.

  4. Alfred has been on the calendar for many years now. I see no reason to take him off, although the actual celebration may appeal mostly to historians and Anglophiles. But most Americans have at least heard of him, which is more than we can say about several otheer commemorations (including Simon and Jude who are uust names in a list).

  5. “the Continent” (with upper case C?) Isn’t that a bit 1st world chauvenistic — as if it’s the ONLY continent?

  6. Line 6ff of the third paragraph: whose work was he translating, and who was the man about whom Alfred made these comments?

    I would move the last two lines of the second paragraph to become a separate final paragraph.

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