ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN PARISH OF
ST AETHELHEARD, LOUTH
ANTIOCHIAN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ARCHDIOCESE OF THE BRITISH ISLES AND IRELAND     
Patriarch: His Beatitude John X     Archbishop: His Eminence Metropolitan Silouan    
Priest: Fr Alban   email: father.alban11@gmail. com

Copyright of the Orthodox Christian Parish of St Aethelheard, Louth, Lincolnshire.  Registered Charity No 1102841

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ST AETHELHEARD OF LOUTH AND CANTERBURY

On entering the Temple in Louth one is soon confronted by St Aethelheard. In the icon one sees a patient, resilient and tough person. There is more than a slight hint of the inner life of a monk in his eyes. So who is he? He was the fifteenth Archbishop of Canterbury who died on 12th May, 805. Very little is known of his life before he became Archbishop but he is described as 'Abbas Hludensis Monasterii', i.e. Abbot of the monastery of Louth.

He lived through very troubled times. The powerful King Offa of Mercia (757-796) had enlarged his kingdom until there was only Mercia, Northumbria and Wessex left in what we now know as England. The kingdom stretched down into Kent but to some extent the king felt threatened by Canterbury and its powerful Archbishop Jaenbert (766-791). The king decided to give his kingdom an independent Archdiocese based in Lichfield. This would weaken Canterbury's influence by dividing the province. This was successfully accomplished when the Papal Legates George and Theophylact, sent by Pope Hadrian I in 786-788, arrived. Bishop Higbert received the pallium (Archbishop's Omophorion) as Archbishop of Lichfield, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was left with only London, Winchester, Sherborne, Rochester and Selsey as suffragan sees. On the death of Archbishop Jaenbert (12 August 791), Aethelheard was moved from Louth to Canterbury through the direct influence of King Offa. He was clearly a man the King felt he could trust. Problems for Archbishop designate Aethelheard began immediately. Although he was elected in 791, his consecration and enthronement took place on 21 July, 793: the delay was almost certainly due to the clergy and faithful in Kent being most unwilling to have a foreign Archbishop.

Then three years later the nobles of Kent rebelled against King Offa and their Archbishop, and rallied round one Eadbert Praen, a priest and a member of their ex-royal house (what a strange priest this man must have been!) Life gradually became increasingly unbearable and dangerous. Although the famous St Alcuin wrote furiously to St Aethelheard telling him not to desert his Church, after deposing and excommunicating Eadbert Praen, the Archbishop was forced to flee to the continent. King Offa died on 26 July. His successor Egfrith died after a very short reign around 13 December; Cenwulf succeeded in Mercia, but the uprising continued in Kent until the capture of Eadbert Praen in 798.

St Aethelheard had been most helpful to King Cenwulf in deposing Eadbert, and in remaining loyal to him in Kent. This enormously increased his standing in the Royal court and as a result the Archbishopric of Lichfield began to look superfluous. The King wrote in 798 to Pope Leo asking him to look into the need for a second Archbishopric and enclosed a petition from Aethelheard and his suffragan Bishops. Meanwhile St Aethelheard returned home and received another furious letter from St Alcuin telling him to do penance for having left his Church. The Kings's letter was received favourably by the Pope and St Aethelheard decided to set out for Rome in 801 to speak to his chief pastor himself. In Rome he was just as successful; Pope Leo III (795-816) solved the problem of Canterbury and Lichfield by returned Lichfield to a suffragan diocese. The council of Clovesho on 12 October 803 officially acknowledged the Pope's decision in presence of Cenwulf and his Witan (parliament). An unfortunate result of this was that Bishop Higbert was deprived of his pallium in spite of Alcuin's plea that so good a man should not be humiliated.

First printed in the Newsletter of the Community of St Aethelheard, May 2003