February 12 – St. Frideswide

February 11, 2019

St. Frideswide


Stained glass window of Saint Frideswide hides from King Algar amongst swines.

Stained glass window of Saint Frideswide hides from King Algar amongst swines.

Virgin, patroness of Oxford, lived from about 650 to 735. According to her legend, in its latest form, she was the child of King Didan and Safrida, and was brought up to holiness by Algiva. She refused the proffered hand of King Algar, a Mercian, and fled from him to Oxford. It was in vain that he pursued her; a mysterious blindness fell on him, and he left her in her cell. From this eventually developed the monastery, in which she died in 19 October (her principal feast), and was buried. The earliest written life now extant was not composed until four hundred years after her death, but it is generally admitted that the substance of the tradition has every appearance of verisimilitude. From the time of her translation in 1180 (commemorated 12 Feb.) from her original tomb to the great shrine of her church, her fame spread far and wide; for the university was now visited by students from all parts, who went twice a year in solemn procession to her shrine and kept her feasts with great solemnity. Cardinal Wolsey transformed her monastery into Christ Church College, King Henry made her church into Oxford cathedral, but her shrine was dismantled, and her relics, which seem to have been preserved, were relegated to some out-of-the-way corner. In the reign of Edward VI, Catherine Cathie was buried near the site of her shrine. She was a runaway nun, who had been through the form of marriage with Peter Martyr, the ex-friar. The Catholics, as was but natural, ejected her bones in the reign of Queen Mary. But after Elizabeth had reinstated Protestantism, James Calfhill, appointed Canon of Christ Church in 1561, dug up Cathie’s bones once more, mixed them up (in derision of the Catholics) with the alleged remaining relics of the saint, and buried them both together amid the plaudits of his Zwinglian friends in England and Germany, where two relations of his exploit, one in Latin and one in German, were published in 1562. The Latin relation, which is conveniently reprinted in the Bollandists, is followed in the original by a number of epitaphs on the theme Hic jacet religio cum superstitione, but it does not seem that these words were incised on the tomb, though it is often said that they were. The episode strikingly illustrates the character of the continuity between the ancient faith and the reformed religion of England.

Acta SS., Oct., VIII, 533-564; MABILLON, Acta SS. Ben. (1672), III, I, 561; HOLE in Dict. Christ. Biog., s. v.; HUBERT, Historia Bucerii, Fagii, item C. Vermiliæ (1562); PARKER, Early Oxford, 727-1100 (1885); PLUMMER, Elizabethan Oxford (1887).

J.H. POLLEN (Catholic Encyclopedia)


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