Stained glass window of Birinus at Dorchester Abbey
3 December 649 or 650|
Dorchester, Wessex (England)
|Major shrine||Dorchester Abbey, now destroyed. Small parts survive. Modern replica now in place. (Or Winchester Cathedral, now destroyed.)|
|Attributes||Bishop, sometimes baptising a king|
|Controversy||Body claimed by both Dorchester Abbey and Winchester Cathedral|
Birinus (also Berin, Birin; c. 600 – 649 or 650) was the first Bishop of Dorchester and was known as the "Apostle to the West Saxons" for his conversion of the Kingdom of Wessex to Christianity. He is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and Anglican churches.
Life and ministry
After Augustine of Canterbury performed the 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.
A Benedictine monk, 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 pagan. Cynegils then converted and was baptised. 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 Wessex.
Birinus is said to have been very active in establishing churches in Wessex. Birinus supposedly laid the foundations for St. Mary's in Reading, and other churches 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. Birinus baptised Cynegils's son Cwichelm (died 636) in 636 and grandson Cuthred (died 661) in 639, to whom he stood as godfather.
Birinus died in Dorchester on 3 December in 649 or 650.
Birinus' feast day is 3 December in the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, but some churches celebrate his feast on 5 December. His feast was added to the Roman Martyrology in the late 16th century. In the Church of England his feast day falls on 4 September and has the status of a commemoration. His relics were eventually translated to Winchester after his death.
A small number of Church of England parish churches are dedicated to Birinus, including those at Berinsfield in Oxfordshire and Redlynch in Wiltshire. The Catholic church in the village of Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire, one of the first built after the restoration of the hierarchy by Pope Pius IX, is also dedicated to Birinus.
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|New title|| Bishop of Dorchester