Thursday, October 19, 2017

Saint Frideswide of Oxford, Patron of Oxford (+ 735)

St. Frideswide of Oxfrod (Feast Day - October 19)

According to her Life which was written down in c. 1125 on the basis of traditions then current in Oxford, Frideswide was born in about the year 680. A Wessex princess, her father, Didan, was a local prince of the region of Oxford and her mother was called Sæthrith. Her upbringing was entrusted to a pious woman called Ethelgith. Very early the young princess showed monastic inclinations, for from childhood her motto had been: 'Whatever is not God is nothing'. When she was a young girl, she was pursued by a certain pagan prince of Mercia, Ethelgar, who sought her in marriage. She escaped his intentions by fleeing into the woods of Binsey, and then down the river Thames with two companions towards the then village of Oxford. Somewhere here she hid for three years, using a former pigsty as her cell. However, Prince Ethelgar still pursued her, but was then struck blind. It was only through his repentance and Frideswide's prayers that his sight was restored. Thereafter she was left in peace to follow the monastic path.


She was to found a double monastery on the site of what is now Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford. This was dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. But in order to live alone the Saint returned to her refuge and built herself a cell in Binsey woods where she lived in holy prayer. She wore a hair-shirt and ate only a little barley bread with a few vegetables and drank nothing but water. The spring from which she drank was obtained by her prayers to Saint Margaret and then became the holy well that exists to this day. Centuries later a nunnery was founded nearby and that place became known, as it is known today, by the name of Godstow - the place of the service of God. It was in this place that this Princess reposed in 735, and her relics came to be revered. Since that date she has always been celebrated on 19th October.

St. Margaret's Well

At the beginning of the eleventh century her foundation was pillaged by the Danes and restored only after the schism as a Roman Catholic foundation. Her holy relics, however, remained and were translated and venerated there until her shrine was destroyed by the Reformers of 1538. Although that shrine was briefly restored in 1546, it was again desecrated in 1558 by a Calvinist fanatic who mingled the holy relics with the bones of the mistress of an apostate monk - none other than the then Professor of Divinity of the University.

Shrine of St. Frideswide in Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford

Today St Frideswide's holy relics lie still dishonored, still mixed together with the bones of that woman, in a common grave in what is now Christchurch Cathedral, a few steps from the center of Oxford. Frideswide is the patron saint of Oxford. She is also patron saint of Oxford University, which was declared by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1440. Oxford scholars would solemnly visit her shrine twice a year to ask for her heavenly protection. Her feast day is 19 October, the traditional day of her death; the date of her translation is also commemorated on 12 February.

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