Reformed Churchmen

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

8 January 926 A.D. Athelm Lays Down the Earthly War—20st Archbishop of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

8 January 926 A.D.  Athelm Lays Down the Earthly War—20st Archbishop of 105 Archbishops of Canterbury

Athelm (or Æthelhelm; died 926) was an English churchman, who was the first Bishop of Wells, and later Archbishop of Canterbury. His translation, or moving from one bishopric to another, was a precedent for later translations of ecclesiastics, because prior to this time period such movements were considered illegal. While archbishop, Athelm crowned the new king and perhaps wrote the coronation service for the event. An older relative of Dunstan, a later Archbishop of Canterbury, Athelm helped promote Dunstan's early career. After Athelm's death, he was considered a saint.



Athelm was a monk of Glastonbury Abbey[1] before his elevation in 909 to the see of Wells, of which he was the first occupant.[2] The see was founded to divide up the diocese of Sherborne, which was very large, by creating a bishopric for the county of Somerset. Wells was likely chosen as the seat because it was the center of the county.[3] Some scholarly works suggest that Athelm may be the same person as Æthelhelm, son of King Æthelred of Wessex,[4] but this is not accepted by most historians.[5] A few sources state that Athelm was Abbot of Glastonbury before he became bishop,[6] but other sources disagree and do not give him that office.[1] This traces to later medieval chroniclers, not to contemporary accounts. His brother was Heorstan, who held land near Glastonbury.[7]


Between August 923 and September 925 he became archbishop.[8] His translation from the see of Wells set a precedent for the future, and marks a break with historical practice. Previously the moving of a bishop from one see to another had been held to be against canon, or ecclesiastical, law. Recently, however, the popes had themselves been translated, and this practice was to become common in England after Athelm's time.[9] He was West Saxon, unlike his predecessor, Plegmund, who was Mercian, reflecting the shift in power to Wessex.[10] Athelm was a paternal uncle of Dunstan,[1] who later became Archbishop of Canterbury. It was Athelm who brought Dunstan to the king's court.[11]

Athelm presided at the coronation of King Athelstan of England on 4 September 925, and probably composed or organised the new Ordo (order of service) in which for the first time the king wore a crown instead of a helmet. He also attested the king's first grant to St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury.[10] It is unclear if the reason that no coins were minted with his name was his short term of office or a change in policy towards the Archbishop of Canterbury minting coins in his own name. Nothing else is known of Athelm's brief time as archbishop.[9]

Death and burial

Athelm died on 8 January 926.[1][8] He was later considered a saint, with a feast day of 8 January.[12] He was buried at first the church of St John the Baptist near the Saxon-era Canterbury Cathedral. When a new cathedral was constructed under Archbishop Lanfranc after the Norman Conquest of England, the earlier archbishops of Canterbury were moved to the north transept of the new cathedral. Later, Athelm and his successor as archbishop Wulfhelm were moved to a chapel dedicated to St Benedict, which later was incorporated into the Lady Chapel constructed by Prior Thomas Goldstone (d. 1468).[13]


1.       ^ Jump up to: a b c d Mason "Athelm (d. 926)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

2.       Jump up ^ Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 222

3.       Jump up ^ Robinson Saxon Bishops of Wells p. 5

4.       Jump up ^ Dolley "Important Group" British Museum Quarterly p. 75

5.       Jump up ^ Miller "Æthelred I (d. 871)" Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

6.       Jump up ^ Delaney Dictionary of Saints p. 65

7.       Jump up ^ Robinson Saxon Bishops of Wells p. 6

8.       ^ Jump up to: a b Fryde, et al. Handbook of British Chronology p. 214. Nelson (p. 126) states that he became archbishop in 923.

9.       ^ Jump up to: a b Brooks Early History of the Church of Canterbury pp. 214–216

10.    ^ Jump up to: a b Nelson "First Use" Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters pp. 124–126

11.    Jump up ^ Stenton Anglo-Saxon England p. 446

12.    Jump up ^ Catholic Online "St Athelm" Catholic Online

13.    Jump up ^ Robinson Saxon Bishops of Wells pp. 58–59


External links

New diocese
Bishop of Wells
909–c. 923
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Succeeded by

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