Famous People from the Cambridgeshire

St Felix of Burgundy d. 646


First person to introduce Latin Christianity to Cambridgeshire during the 7th Century. St. Felix of Burgundy, died 647, also known as Felix of Dunwich; Apostle to the East Angles, was the first person to introduce Latin Christianity to Cambridgeshire during the 7th Century (circa 630) and was also responsible for converting King Anna of Exning and his daughters including a certain Elthedreda (Ely) to Christianity. He was born in Burgundy, France and became a Priest. Missionary to the East Angles in 630 working with King Sigebert and Saint Honorius of Canterbury. Bishop of Dunwich, England, the see he founded was in a location that has now benn washed away by the sea. He founded a number of schools including the University of Cambridge. His representation as a Saint is a bishop with three (3) rings on his right hand and his memorial day is the 8th March.

Soham is associated with this premier saint quoted in the annals of English Church history. Felix, meaning happy or joyful, came to East Anglia from Burgundian territory in the company of Sigbert the Learned, an East Anglian King. Felix is renowned as a great missionary and became the first Bishop of the East Angles. He is said to have founded a monastery at Soham about A.D. 630.

Felix, having been consecrated about 631 A.D. by Archbishop Honorius, held the bishopric for seventeen years. According to the chronicler of the times his episcopate was full of happiness for the cause of Christianity and the admirable historian, Bede, described his work with an allusion to the good omen of his name. Bede wrote that St. Felix "delivered all the province of East Anglia from long-standing unrighteousness and unhappiness. As a pious cultivator of the spirited field, he found abundant faith in a believing people. In no part of England was Christianity more favourably introduced".

Bede continues: "He (St. Felix) did not fail in his purpose and like a good farmer reaped a rich harvest of believers. He delivered the entire province from its age-old wickedness and infelicity and brought it to the Christian faith and works of righteousness, and in full accord with the significance of his own name, guided it towards eternal felicity".

By his presence at Soham all those decades ago the town can take pride in its former importance as a renowned Christian centre. The great evangelist and educator died on March 8th, 647 A.D. and he was buried in his own city of Dunwich. He is commemorated in the seaside town of Felixstowe and also of a Yorkshire village, Feliskirk (the church of Felix). The mortal remains of St. Felix were later exhumed from Dunwich and brought to Soham monastery which he had founded. This was a precautionary measure for fear that heathen flames would take possession of them. In King Canute's time, about 1031 A.D. the relic was removed a second time for the same reason by a monk named Etheric to Ramsey in Huntingdonshire, and there solemnly enshrined by Abbot Ethelstan. While the relic was being carried across the water a miracle is said to have happened. A chronicler at Soham or Ramsey wrote:  

"In those days (circa 1020) St. Felix, formerly Bishop of East Anglia lay buried in the royal manor of Soham for at this place the saint while still alive had built and dedicated a beautiful church and gathered together a goodly company of monks. These monks subsequently, after their good father was dead . . . carried away his precious remains from Dunwich and laid them with great honour in their own church at Soham.  Afterwards, however, when this same church (or monastery) had been utterly destroyed and the monks killed by the Danes, this saintly man had met with less reverence and honour. This continued up to the time of King Canute, when Etheric, hearing of it, pointed out to Abbot Athelstan and the monks of Ramsey how, by the expenditure of a little labour, they might win for themselves inexhaustible riches and so urged them by the spur of self interest to carry out his purpose".

"Athelstan therefore taking with him Agerinus, his prior, set out by water for Soham which possessed the relic of such value, and overawing by the combined authority of the King and bishop the resistance of those who were for opposing him, he placed the sacred remains and bones of the saint on board and began his voyage homeward to Ramsey amid the strains of joyous psalmody. The men of Ely, however, on hearing of this, grudging us so valuable a relic, manned their boats with a strong band, hoping by their large numbers to carry off from the smaller party the remains which they had removed from Soham."

"In order that it might be clearly seen that the removal was taking place by Divine than by human wishes, it came to pass that just as the ships of either party were approaching one another under a bright and cloudless sky, suddenly, to the discomfiture of the large force and the benefit of the smaller, a dense fog arose which separated the two parties. And so, while their adversaries were vainly wandering in different directions, our boat was carried onward in a straight course and safely deposited by the aiding waters on the bosom of our native shore".

"You may find it hard to believe this miracle ... yet, reader, you are compelled to suspect it by no necessity as long as you are at all events convinced of the undoubted fact that the remains of St. Felix were, on King Canute's yielding to the prayers of Bishop Etheric, transferred from the aforesaid town of Soham to the church at Ramsey and reburied with great reverence; and there, even to this day, does that holy man bestow on worshippers many benefits. If you desire further to learn anything of his origin, his life or his good deeds, you must consult Bede who has composed a history of the English in admirable style, and among other men of the highest sanctity whom he there commends, has deemed the praise of our saint worthy of praise".

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