Saint Frideswide, Patroness of the city of Oxford, and the University of Oxford, England
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.

Saint Frideswide's (680-727 or 735) Feast Day is October 19th.

Frideswide was born at her father's palace, Didcot, in Oxford, England; in the mid-seventh century. Frideswide father was the Mercian sub-king Dida of Eynsham, Lower Mercia and her mother was Safrida. Frideswide was brought up by her governess, Elgitha. After her mother's death, Frideswide returned to Oxford to live with her father. He then gave her a large parcel of land, at the gates of the city, where she would built a church. One legend states that Frideswide was sought as a wife for the Earl of Leicester. The Earl was a Prince of the Royal Mercian line. Frideswide refused his marriage proposal since she had made a vow of chastity. Aelfgar was not to give up that easily and wanted to capture Frideswide and take her by force. He father found out and he foiled his plans. He arranged to help his daughter flee from Oxford. The Prince was said to have searched for Frideswide, but could not find her. Prince Aelfgar then raided the city of Oxford and threatened the citizens if he could not find Frideswide. The villages were frightened and revealed her hiding place. Then a drunken Aelfgar told his companions that he would then take Frideswide by force, no matter what she thought. The next morning he found reason and did not carry out his plan. Instead he decided to give gifts to her via his ambassadors. However, they were blinded. The Prince was furious and mounted his horse and went into the forest to capture Frideswide. He wanted her as his wife even if it meant taking her by force. She again pleaded that she was chaste. She prayed to St. Catherine and St. Cecilia to help her. She was ready to take her own life rather than let the Prince defile her. Aelfgar was blinded, just like his ambassadors.

The Prince cried out for help. He pleaded forgiveness and swore he would not bother her again. Frideswide was then said to have taken his hand and led him to a well, where she washed his eyes and asked for his sight to be restored. Frideswide then walked to her nunnery with her hand maidens and friends. On the way she came upon a leper and cured him with a sisterly kiss. Frideswide lived in Oxford for many years, and her father made her the founding abbess of his monastery at Oxford.

William of Malmsbury chronicled her life in the twelfth century. According to Malmsbury, Frideswide had to ward off the advances of Aethbald (716-757) of Mercia. However, by the dates, I believe that it must have been AEthelred (675-704), brother of Wulfhere, son of Penda. AEthelred (reigned from 675-704) was said to be a barbarian, like his father. He won a victory over Eghrith of Northumbria at the battle of the River Trent in 679, and ended Northumbrian overlordship south of the Humber and saw the province of Lindsey pass permanently into the Mercian sphere of influence.

The Malmsbury's story of Frideswide: She fled into the forests near Binsey. She is said to have blinded her attacker because of his lustful ways, and then gave him his sight back when he thought better of his actions.

Mercia has its native saint cults and many of the saints were said to be of royal birth. Saint cults are discussed in Life of St. Rumwold. However, this tale of an infant prodigy dying three days after his birth, after having preached a sermon on the Trinity seems highly unlikely.

During this time period, there was more oral history than written records, so the oral tradition of mythology is all that we know. Mercian kings claimed descent from the legendary kings of Continental Angeln. Frideswide, herself, was said to be related to the "Frith" family. This is named because many of her supposed ancestors were called Frithuris, Frithwold, etc. In fact, Frithuric may have been related to Frithwold, a subking of Surrey under Wulfhere. Taking this legend into account, Frideswide was related to Ethelred ... he was a cousin. Frithuric was a princip and member of the royal house and founder of religious houses in Mercia. When Aethelbald went into the monkhood later in life and became abbot at Bardney in Lincolnshire, he left his throne to Cenred (704-709) his nephew, who was the son of Wulfhere. Another account said AEthelred and Osthryth had a son named Ceolred?

It was a practice of the Mercian kingship to grant religious communities in Kent and the kingdom of Hwicce, rather than in the main Mercian province. Another royal kinsmen of AEthelred was Penwalk, the father of St. Guthlac. Another saint, St. Mildburgh (c1080-90), daughter of Merewalk. Another the Kentish Princess, Eormenburb, was niece to King AEthelred. She was the abbess of Minster-in-Thanet. AEthelred's wife was Osthryth, a Northumbrian princess (and daughter of Offa). Osthryth was sister to King Ecgfrith.

In the Life of Guthlac, Icel was regarded as the founder of the dynasty, and in the genealogy of AEthelred, in the Anglican collection, he appears five generations above Penda, the first Mercian ruler that we have data about.

St. Frideswide retired to quiet seclusion in Thornbury at Binsey, where she built a small chapel. Frideswide died in the monastery in Oxford on October 19, 735, and was buried in the nunnery in Oxford. Though a fire destroyed many church records in 1002, there is little doubt that her relics occupied a shrine there in the eleventh century. This shrine, in the Berkshire forest, was a place of pilgrimage. It was known as Fritha's Home or Frilsham.

The church, in Oxford, was reputed to have a dedication to St. Friswide before the Norman Conquest, but was re-constructed as her burial place. Her re-constructed shrine is the presbytery.

In the twelfth century, this church (Norman style) became a house of Augustinian canons (it was formerly an Augustinian priory), and the cult of St. Frideswide gained in popularity as the population of Oxford began to grow.

I believe that Friswede Metcalf was named after this saint, especially since the Bartholomews and the Metcalfe's were pious people. By 1434 St Friswide's feast was celebrated. She was made patroness of Oxford University and the town of Oxford, a position that still remains today.

The church was eventually annexed by Cardinal Wolsey, its precincts acting as the site for his new Cardinal College (now Christ's Church College), and the shrine was despoiled by Henry VIII's chantry commission in 1538. In 1546 this church was made a cathedral. and became Christ's Church. A few fragments of St. Frideswide's late thirteenth century shrine base survives to this day.

Relics of St. Frideswide are in Reading Abbey, New Minster (Winchester), St, George's Chapel, Windsor, and her cult was also in Bomy, diocese of Therouanne. Besides giving AEelred back his sight, she was said to have cured the blind messenger of Prince Algar.

With all this in mind, I guess we could say that the Metcalfes must have heard about the miracles of St. Frideswide and named their daughter in her honor. Of course, the Bartholomews were Catholic first, and then became Puritans, so who knows? Perhaps Frideswide was also a family name?

Family oral history claims a royal connection to the Bartholomew line, perhaps this is the connection? When I learn more about the wives of the Bartholomew men, perhaps the evidence will present itself?

The Saxons:

The second century writer, Ptolemy, first mentioned the Saxons in his Geography. Tacitus writes of these Germanic people of the first century A.D. and their warfare. However, it was not until the 3rd century A.D. that they actually made an impact on the Roman Empire. They began to harrass western Europe and Britain. By the 4th century, they sped up their military assault on Britain and Gaul and established settlements. A 5th century poet/bishop, Sidonuis Appollinaris, owned land and was a victim of Saxon raids. He described them as brutal seagoing raiders. The Saxons were likened to the Viking raiders of the 8th and 9th centuries.

"Inscriptions of Burgh (Cumbria), Housteads (Hadrian Wall) and Binchester (Durham) attest to the presence of at least three cavalry units of Frisians" (Shadrake, Dan and Suzanna, Barbarian Warriors - Saxons, Vikings, Normans. London: Brassey's History of Uniforms Series (UK) Ltd., 1997, p 66).

The Frisii were from Holland. They were of Germanic stock from the coast of northern Germany. By the 6th century "Saxon" came to apply to Germanic peoples from north Germany, between Mecklenburg and Frisia (between the Elbe and Weser Rivers). Bede (a monk) wrote Historia Ecclesiastics Gentis Anglorum in 731 A.D., and refers to the races of Germany as (1) the Saxons (2) the Angles (3) the Jutes.

The Angles were from a country known as Angulus between the provinces of the Jutes and Saxons from whom the East and Middle Angles, the Mercians, and Northumberians are descended.

"A Germanic dialect, Frisian-or Fries was spoken in the Dutch province Friesland, and on the North Sea coast near Denmark, it is so close to English that the following English couplet sounds practically the same in both languages.

Good butter and good cheese
Is good English and good Fris


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