Some intriguing medieval references inform us of St Simon of Atherfield, neatly described as ‘a martyr to his wife’.
Simon was, apparently, murdered by his wife Amicia (or Avicia) on 21 March 1211, and she was sentenced to burn for the crime, probably in early summer the following year.
We are told that many miracles subsequently took place at his tomb, though its exact location remains unknown.
No mention of St Simon is to be found in any known calendar or martyrology, and no official recognition was granted to his status as saint; it is more than likely that Bishop Peter of Winchester – lord of the manor of Calbourne which possessed outlying rights at Atherfield – suppressed the cult fairly quickly, but not before appropriating the ‘seven pounds, twelve shillings and a penny’ left in offerings at Simon’s tomb.
Of Simon himself, the sources tell us nothing of his family, implying that his background was humbler than that of his wife.
All we know is that he bore the toponym ‘de Atherfield’, and hence that he was a local man.
To be widely regarded as a martyrdom, Simon’s death must have taken place in dramatic circumstances; and the method of execution employed against Amicia, burning at the stake, was regarded as a particularly horrific one, even in the eyes of her contemporaries.
By murdering her husband, she had in legal terms committed an act of treason, according to the prevailing ethos of the time.
Murder in the blood
Amicia’s violent temper may have been an inherited trait: in 1255 we find two of her kinsmen accused of the murder of a man named Peter of Whippingham.
Within six months of his death, Simon’s tomb had attracted offerings of more than £7: this is a substantial figure which compares favourably with other shrines of the period, particularly given Atherfield’s remoteness - a fact which in turn helped the cult to be suppressed with a minimum of fuss.
Simon’s cult, though intriguing, is not unique, and fits a pattern of victims of violence being subsequently turned into popular ‘local saints’.
The martyr would be portrayed as a person of spotless innocence, brutally and unfairly done to death; and more often than not, the cult would be frowned upon or suppressed as soon as it came to the attention of the church authorities.
No hint of St Simon’s murder survives in Island folklore or legends.