St. Felix

For 200 years the monastic settlement at Soham thrived until around 870 AD when the Danes made their destructive progress across the region, they destroyed the Abbey, stealing its treasures, killing the monks and burning the buildings to the ground.  The Abbey was never rebuilt, and the actual site remains a mystery, although, in 1120 AD, William de Malmsebury records that the ruins here were still visible.
Except for traces of Saxon masonry in the Norman Church of St. Andrew, no physical evidence for the Abbey survives above ground.  Stone remains may well have been exported to assist in the rebuilding of the more easily defended monastery of St Etheldreda at Ely, which was brought down at the same time.

In King Canute's time, about 1031 AD. St. Felix's remains were removed 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 AD) 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. 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".

By his presence at Soham all those centuries ago the town can take pride in its former importance as a renowned Christian centre.


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