Today, 4 Jul 2012, is the memorial of St Oda of Canterbury (a.k.a. Odo of Canterbury or Oda the good). He was the archbishop of Canterbury during the middle of the 10th century. Using his gifts, talents and influence he guided Kings, he built and restored Churches and helped to codify the early laws for the relationships between laity, pastors and secular rulers. Such work laid firm foundations for subsequent generations to build upon.
St Oda was born around the year 870 in the East Anglia region of England . His pagan parents had immigrated to England from Denmark. Having family wealth and noble connections gave Oda many advantages, and good preparation for the years to come. However, when he started taking on Christianity his parents were not best pleased and Oda left home and went to the region of Wessex. Here, it seems, a nobleman named Athelhelm welcomed him into his household, and Oda became part of the court of King Edward the Elder. After showing aptitude for Latin and Greek at some point along the way Oda was ordained a diocesan priest. With Athelhelm he went on a pilgrimage to Rome.
Upon returning home he was appointed to the position of Bishop of Ramsay, serving during the reign of King Aethelstan. He must have done a good job at Ramsey, and at advising the leaders in Wesex because Edmund I wanted to have him consecrated as Archbishop of Canterbury. It was an unusual appointment because preceding bishops had all come from monastic life. Knowing the history of the See, Oda did not want to break with tradition. So before being consecrated archbishop he wanted to be instructed in the pure Benedictine rule and accepted as a monk. To do this he went to Fleury in Franced. On his return, Oda was duly consecrated archbishop and began his long years of valuable service.
Oda now began a wave of reforms in the Archdiocese which he led from around 941 until 959. Drawing many sources of rules and laws together, he worked on ten constitutions for smooth relationships between people, clerics and rulers: eg Churches were not to pay tax; guidelines on fasting; guidelines on payment of tithes; bishops to visit all the parishes at least once a year; what constitutes an valid marriage; etc. To get these constitutions put together and approved would have taken rare skill, tact and political nous. Oda kept in contact with all of the bishops ministering in suffragan dioceses and wrote letters of encouragement to grow in holiness. Due to past military conflicts, a reorganisation was needed to get the diocese in East Anglia going again, together with repairs to church buildings, and Oda worked to achieve this. He was also in great demand as an advisor and councillor to kings.
Oda’s major battle in his role as archbishop, however, was in obtaining moral reform among clergy and laity. Like the apostles of old, he called all of his flock to repentance and to accept the disciplines that lead to holiness. His life came to a natural close on 2 June 959. When St Dunstan succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury, he held Oda in honour and always referred to him as ‘Oda the Good’, stopping at Oda’s tomb to pray whenever he passed by that chapel in the Cathedral.
An ancient manuscript held in the Cottonian Library contains this verse which must have been on Oda’s tombstone. I’ll give the Latin, and then my very loose translation in English.
Stemmate serenus jacet hie sacer Odo severus / Moribus excellens acriter Peccata refellens / Presul et indulgens omni pietae refulgens / Ecclesie et Christi Pugil invictissimus isti / O bone nunc Christe quia sic tibi serviit isti / Caeli solamen sibi des te deprecor. Amen.
In this chapel tranquilly lies the holy and austere Odo / exemplary in virtue he fiercely refuted wrongdoing / a kind bishop who radiated goodness to all / a fighter for Christ and Church most invincible / O good Christ because of the service he gave You in this life, grant Your heavenly solace to all those who offer their petitions to You through him. Amen.
St Oda of Canterbury, pray for us