Birinus

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Birinus being made a bishop by Archbishop Asterius.

Birinus ( 650), also St. Birinus was a missionary to Wessex and the first Bishop of Dorchester. His feast day is celebrated on December 3rd.


Career[change | change source]

Birinus may have been a Lombard by birth.[1] He was sent by Pope Honorius I to help convert pagans in Anglo-Saxon England.[2] The pope first sent him to Genoa. There Archbishop Asterius of Milan consecrated Birinus as a bishop.[1] Birinus arrived in southern Britain c. 634.[3] He had planned to go to the midlands of England to preach there. But when he found the Gewisse in Wessex were completely pagan, he decided to stay with them.[1] He began to convert the Gewisse (West Saxons) to Christianity. In 635 King Cynegils of Wessex was baptized by Birinus and King Oswald of Northumbria agreed to be his Godfather.[4] This may have been a condition of the marriage between Oswald and Cynegils's daughter, Cyneburh.[5] He gave Bishop Birinus the city of Dorchester and several churches so he could convert the pagans in Wessex.[2] In c. 647–48 Birinus founded a church at Winchester which later became Winchester Cathedral.[3] Birinus died in 650.[1] He was buried at Dorchester.[6]

Relics of St. Birinus[change | change source]

After 660 there were no more West Saxon Bishops at Dorchester. Along with part of Berkshire it was taken over by Mercia.[7] The new see for Wessex was now at Winchester. Some time around 690–700 Bishop Hedda of Winchester had the relics (bones) of St. Birinus moved from Dorchester to Winchester.[7] Up to this time Bishop Birinus had been considered a minor saint.[8] In 1223 monks of Dorchester abbey located the tomb of a former Bishop. The body was dressed in the garments and tunic of a bishop so they believed it was St. Birinus.[8] At the time of the discovery miracles were claimed. One claim was that a dumb child could suddenly speak English and French.[8] The monks sent their findings to Rome. The pope wrote to Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him to manage the translation.[a] But a problem caused the ceremony to be delayed. Archbishop Langton discovered the body had already been moved to Winchester c. 700.[8] Both Dorchester and Winchester claimed to have the relics of Bishop Birinus.[8] For that reason two feast days were observed for him, December 3rd and 4th.[7] The Catholic Church recognizes December 3rd. A shrine was created for him in the 14th century. It was later destroyed, but it has been rebuilt since.[7]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. In Christianity translation is the removal of holy objects from one place to another. In this case it was the saint's body. It was usually done by a bishop or abbot to a special place within the church. A feast day, the day the saint's body or relics were moved, is observed from then on.[9]

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Fifth Edition Revised (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 52
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. Leo Sherley Price, revsd. R. E. Latham (London; New York: Penguin, 1990), p. 153
  3. 3.0 3.1 Michael Counsell, Every Pilgrim's Guide to England's Holy Places (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003), p. 100
  4. Benjamin Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle according to the Several Original Authorities: Translation (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), p. 22
  5. Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens (New york: Carroll & Graf, 1999), p. 304
  6. John Vince, Discovering Saints in Britain (), p. 11
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Fifth Edition Revised (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 53
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Nicholas Vincent, Peter Des Roches: An Alien in English Politics, 1205-1238 (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 244
  9. Eric Waldram Kemp, Canonization and Authority in the Western Church (London : Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 46