SAINT BIRINUS OF WESSEX

Celebrated December 3

Our holy Father Birinus was of Italian, or, according to some accounts, Irish origin. Early in the seventh century he was sent by the Pope to reach the Gospel in the inner parts of England where no teacher had been before. He was consecrated to the episcopate for this task by Archbishop Asterius of Milan.

Then he boarded a ship at Genoa for England. However, at that point he suddenly remembered that he had left on the seashore his antimins [a portable altar-cloth containing relics of the saints, upon which the Divine Liturgy is celebrated], without which he could not perform his apostolic ministry. But putting his faith in God, he boldly stepped out across the stormy waters, recovered the antimins on the seashore, and walked back to the ship, which stood as if immobilized in the middle of the sea. The sailors were astonished to see that his vestments were not even wet.

Arriving on the coast of Hampshire in about the year 634, the saint discovered that many of the inhabitants were not Christian, so he decided not to travel further inland. An old woman who had been blind and deaf for several years was told in a vision to go to St. Birinus, and he healed her by making the sign of the Cross over her eyes and ears. Birinus then travelled to the court of King Cynegils of Wessex, who welcomed him and gave him permission to preach to the people.

In 635 King Cynegils and many of his people were baptized by Birinus in Dorchester-on-Thames, which became his episcopal see and the center of his ministry. The king's sponsor at his baptism was none other than the future great Martyr-King Oswald of Northumbria. "Lovely indeed and well pleasing to God" was the relationship between the two kings, says Bede.

In 636 Birinus baptized King Cynegils' son, Cwichelm, at Dorchester, and in the same year Cwichelm reposed. In 639 the saint also baptized Cwichelm's son, Cuthred, and stood sponsor for him. But Cynegils' other son, Cenwalh, initially refused baptism, and became Christian, not through Birinus, but through St. Felix, bishop of Dunwich in East Anglia.

In 650 St. Birinus reposed and was buried at his episcopal see. In about 690, St. Hedda, bishop of Winchester, removed the relics to Winchester, and they were translated into a new shrine by St. Ethelwold in response to a Divine vision on September 4, 980. His main feast is celebrated on December 3.

Holy Father Birinus, pray to God for us!

By Vladimir Moss. Posted with permission.

(Sources: the Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History; Nova Legenda Anglie, vol. 1, 118-122; David Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1978; Margaret Gallyon, The Early Church in Wessex and Mercia, Lavenham: Terence Dalton, 1980)





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