The Legend of St Frideswide
Let me tell you a story about a woman who once lived named Frideswide. Other than a sexy name, you must be thinking, why should I care about a woman who has been long dead?
Here are 5 reasons:
- She founded a priory in Oxford, which later was incorporated into Christ Church Cathedral.
- She became the focus of a local cult after her death.
- She was declared the patron saint of Oxford in 1440.
- She used a Victorian-era pooper, even back in the 8th century.
- I sat through a 15-minute documentary at Christ Church Cathedral to bring you this information.
So sit back and enjoy the legend, complete with stained glass illustrations.
Frideswide was an Anglo-Saxon princess, born in AD 650. Her father founded a priory in Oxford, England, where Frideswide grew up in the care of nuns. At an early age, Frideswide dedicated her life to becoming a nun and took a vow of celibacy. Despite her vow, the beautiful Frideswide was constantly sought out by princes from neighboring kingdoms who wanted her hand in marriage.
That’s Frideswide in the middle.
One day, a Mercian king named Algar arrived with his retinue and pleaded with the king for his daughter’s hand.
Prince Algar only wears one glove, kind of like Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.
Upon discovery of the proposal, Frideswide fled and hid in the woods outside of Oxford. Algar, along with his retinue, pursued Frideswide and searched desperately for her but in vain.
Frideswide must have been a master of camouflage since even the dogs can’t find her.
Frideswide boarded a ship and sailed up the Thames River to Binsey, where she took refuge with a group of women who gave her shelter.
Frideswide rows up the River Thames past some sleeping pigs.
In Binsey, Frideswide established a nunnery and began to care for the poor and miraculously heal the sick.
Frideswide heals the sick and kisses babies. That last part isn’t in the legend, but I’m sure it’s true.
Eventually, Frideswide received word that her father, the king, was worried about her, so she returned to Oxford. Upon hearing of Frideswide’s return, Algar traveled quickly to Oxford to claim his bride. As Algar approached the city gates, Frideswide prayed to God for deliverance. There was a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning flew from the sky, striking Algar and blinding him.
Some accounts say that Algar remained blind; others claim that he repented, at which point Frideswide prayed for him and he regained his sight. Either way, he returned home, Frideswide-less.
Frideswide then founded a priory in southern Oxford where she became the first abbess. She spend her remaining years serving the misfortunate and died on October 19, 727.
See the toilet in the top right-hand closet? See, I told you she used a Victorian-era pooper!
The Shrine of Frideswide
Frideswide’s body was interred in a reliquary which was displayed as a shrine. Her legend expanded and developed a cult following. People flocked to her grave where they allegedly received healing.
Frideswide’s remains were later transferred to another shrine which was built in the Oxford Monastary in 1289. The shrine was destroyed during the Reformation (circa 1538), but later reconstructed in 1889 in what has now become Christ Church Cathedral.
The shrine of Frideswide in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral. The stained glass window at the far end illustrates Frideswide’s life.
A few years later, in order to discourage the veneration of saints, the Protestants disinterred Frideswide’s relics and mixed them with the bones of another woman who had been buried at the Cathedral. You can find Frideswide’s grave marked by a dark paving stone just south of her shrine in the Lady Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral. The stone is engraved simply with the name Frideswide.