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Bishop of Dorchester
Saint Birinus.jpg
Stained glass window of Birinus at Dorchester Abbey
Appointedbefore 634
Term ended3 December 649
Predecessornew foundation
Personal details
Bornc. 600
Francia (France)
Died3 December 649 or 650
Dorchester, Wessex (England)
Feast day3 December (Catholic)
4 September (Anglican)
Venerated inRoman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy; Anglican Communion
AttributesBishop, sometimes baptising a king
PatronageBerkshire; Dorchester
ShrinesDorchester Abbey, now destroyed. Small parts survive. Modern replica now in place. (Or Winchester Cathedral, now destroyed.)

Birinus (also Berin, Birin; c. 600 – 649 or 650) was the first Bishop of Dorchester[1] 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[edit]

After Augustine of Canterbury performed the initial conversions in England, Birinus, a Frank, came to the kingdoms of Wessex in 634,[2] 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.[3]

A Benedictine monk, Birinus had been made bishop by Asterius in Genoa,[4] and Pope Honorius I created the commission to convert the West Saxons.[5] 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.[6][7] He gave Birinus Dorchester-on-Thames for his episcopal see.[5] 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.[8]

Birinus is said to have been very active in establishing churches in Wessex.[9] Birinus supposedly laid the foundations for St. Mary's in Reading,[10] and other churches such as the church of St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon, near Reading.[11] 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.[12] Birinus baptised Cynegils's son Cwichelm (died 636) in 636[13] and grandson Cuthred (died 661) in 639, to whom he stood as godfather.[14]

Birinus died in Dorchester on 3 December in 649 or 650.[15]


Birinus' feast day is 3 December in the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church,[16][17] but some churches celebrate his feast on 5 December.[15] His feast was added to the Roman Martyrology in the late 16th century.[18] In the Church of England his feast day falls on 4 September and has the status of a commemoration.[19] His relics were eventually translated to Winchester after his death.[20]

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[21] by Pope Pius IX, is also dedicated to Birinus.



  1. ^ Powicke & Fryde 1961, p. 219.
  2. ^ Walsh 2007, p. 102.
  3. ^ Coles 1981, p. 6.
  4. ^ Bede 1969, 3.7; Thompson 1886.
  5. ^ a b Kirby 2000, p. 38.
  6. ^ Jones, Terry H. "Birinus". Patron Saints Index. Catholic Community Forum. Liturgical Publications of St. Louis. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  7. ^ Thompson 1886.
  8. ^ Kirby 2000, p. 51.
  9. ^ Bede 1969, 3.7.
  10. ^ "Holy Hierarch Birinus", Orthodox Christianity
  11. ^ "History of St Peter & St Paul, Checkendon". Langtree Team Ministry. Archived from the original on 10 June 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  12. ^ "History of St Mary the Virgin, Ipsden". Langtree Team Ministry. Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  13. ^ Bately 1986, an. 636; Davis 1912, p. 57.
  14. ^ Bately 1986, an. 639; Davis 1912, p. 57.
  15. ^ a b Livingstone 2013, p. 68.
  16. ^ "St. Birinus". Catholic Online. Retrieved 1 April 2018.
  17. ^ Kommodatos 1985.
  18. ^ Farmer 2011, p. 53.
  19. ^ Church of England Liturgical Commission 2000, p. 13.
  20. ^ Kirby 2000, p. 49.
  21. ^ "Saint Birinus Catholic Church". Dorchester on Thames, England: Saint Birinus Catholic Church. Retrieved 1 April 2018.

Works cited[edit]

Bately, Janet M. (1986). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A Collaborative Edition. 3. Cambridge, England: D.S. Brewer. ISBN 978-0-85991-103-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Bede (1969). Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-822202-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Church of England Liturgical Commission (2000). Common Worship. London: Church House Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7151-2000-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Coles, R. J. (1981). Southampton's Historic Buildings. City of Southampton Society.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Davis, A. C. (1912). "Birinus". In Ollard, S. L. (ed.). A Dictionary of English Church History. London: A. R. Mowbray and Co. pp. 56–57. LCCN 13001314. Retrieved 1 April 2018.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Farmer, David (2011). The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (rev. 5th ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199596607.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-1995-9660-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Kirby, D. P. (2000). The Earliest English Kings. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-24211-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Kommodatos, Christophoros (1985). οἱ Ἅγιοι τῶν Βρετανικῶν Νήσων [The Saints of the British Isles] (in Greek). Athens: Semandro.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Livingstone, E. A., ed. (2013). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199659623.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-965962-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Powicke, F. Maurice; Fryde, E. B. (1961). Handbook of British Chronology (2nd ed.). London: Royal Historical Society.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Thompson, E. Maunde (1886). "Birinus" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 5. New York: Macmillan and Co. p. 80.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Walsh, Michael (2007). A New Dictionary of Saints: East and West. London: Burns & Oats. ISBN 978-0-86012-438-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]

Ford, David Nash (2001). "St. Birinus (c. 600–649)". Royal Berkshire History. Wokingham, England: Nash Ford Publishing. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
Kimball, Charles L. (1907). "St. Birinus (Berin)" . In Herbermann, Charles G.; Pace, Edward A.; Pallen, Condé B.; Shahan, Thomas J.; Wynne, John J. (eds.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 2. New York: Encyclopedia Press (published 1913). p. 578.
Love, Rosalind C., ed. (1996). Three Eleventh-Century Anglo-Latin Saints' Lives: Vita S. Birini, Vita Et Miracula S. Kenelmi and Vita S. Rumwoldi. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-820524-1. ISSN 0474-974X.
Christian titles
New title Bishop of Dorchester
Succeeded by