Who was Alkmund?

Alkmund (774- March 19th, c. 800) was a Northumbrian prince, son of King Ahlred and brother of Osred. This was a time of bitter fighting and intrigues among claimants to the throne, many of who met a harsh end, so that a member of the Northumbrian royalty stood in almost as much peril from his own kinsmen as from marauding Danish raiders.

Driven into exile at an early age with his father, Alkmund at length returned at the head of an army, but was then killed treacherously, for which the usurper Eardwulf has generally been blamed. His remains were interred at Derby, where he was almost immediately venerated as a Saint, his ‘day’ being set as March 19th, the anniversary of his death.

The precise reason for Alkmund’s bones being ‘translated’ to Shrewsbury is disputed, but the move was certainly at the behest of Aethelfleda, the great ‘Lady of the Mercians’. Aethelfleda was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, and, on the death of her husband Aethelred, continued to rule Mercia – an almost unheard-of role for a woman in those days. She proved a capable ruler, and it is suggested that her motive in choosing Shrewsbury as the new resting-place for Alkmund (c. 912) may have been the lack of security from heathen raiders further east.

When Lilleshall Abbey acquired many of the assets of the Shrewsbury church in the mid 12th century, St Alkmund made his way there, and finally returned to Derby. The movement of relics, including the bones of saints, was a much more common occurrence than might be imagined at this time. Shrewsbury’s loss was ultimately Derby’s gain, and pilgrims brought wealth and some fame to that city. Two of the six churches that bear Alkmund’s name are in Derby, and two in Shropshire (the other in this county being at Whitchurch). When the main Derby church was demolished in 1968 (to be replaced by a more modern building), evidence of several former churches on the same site was uncovered. Among the artefacts found was a magnificent stone sarcophagus, thought to have contained Alkmund’s remains, which is now housed in the Derby Museum.

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