Saint Birinus:

Apostle of Wessex, Bishop of Dorchester

Saint Birinus

Birinus (c. 600 – 649), venerated as a saint, was the first Bishop of Dorchesterer

After Augustine of Canterbury performed initial conversions in England, Birinus, a Frank, came to the kingdoms of Wessex in 634, landing at the port of “Hamwic”, now in the St. Mary’s area of Southampton. During Birinus’s brief time at Hamwic, St. Mary’s Church was founded.

Birinus had been made bishop by Asterius in Genoa, and Pope Honorius I created the commission to convert the West Saxons. In 635, he persuaded the West Saxon king Cynegils to allow him to preach. Cynegils was trying to create an alliance with Oswald of Northumbria, with whom he intended to fight the Mercians. At the final talks between kings, the sticking point was that Oswald, being a Christian, would not ally himself with a heathen. Cynegils then converted and was baptized. He gave Birinus Dorchester-on-Thames for his episcopal see. Birinus’s original commission entailed preaching to parts of Britain where no missionary efforts had reached, and may have included instructions to reach the Mercians. But he ultimately remained in the West Saxon kingdom (Wessex).

Birinus is said to have been very active in establishing churches in Wessex. After Cynegils’ death, the new king, Cenwalh, established a church at Winchester, perhaps under Birinus’ direction. He also supposedly laid the foundations for St. Mary’s in Reading, Saint Helen’s in Abingdon and other churches across old Berkshire and Buckinghamshiree, such as the church of St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon near Reading. Tradition has it that Birinus built the first church at Ipsden, as a small chapel on Berins Hill, about two miles east of the present church. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Birinus baptised Cynegils’s son Cwichelm (d. 636) and grandson Cuthred (d. 661), to whom he stood as godfather. (more)