5 December 2022

S Birinus, of Dorchester, is celebrated on December 5

There are places where one has a vivid sense of the Saxon 'mission' to reconvert England being set down upon the still palpable ruins of the Roman Empire. For example ... Othona, or Bradwell in Essex, a 'Saxon Shore' fort  occupied by S Cedd and his monks. What a terribly remote and inaccessible place, one muses, until one recalls that, before the days of ubiquitous tarmacadam, travelling meant sailing; and perhaps such places were more accessible.

That may be true also of Dorchester upon Thames; a once-Roman town where S Birinus set up his cathedra. S Birinus was sent by Pope Honorius I ... yes!! By him!!!! The last pope before our Holy Father Pope Francis to have been anathematised for doctrinal error!

S Birinus converted the local king, Cynigils, to the Christian faith. S Oswald was present as patrinus; Cynigils received one of S Oswald's daughters as wife. I think we have here a fascinating peep into a society in which Faith and Politics were not a million miles apart; in which a Saxon princeling might feel that, in accepting a marriage alliance together with the Christian Faith, he was allying himself with the broader, Christian, Mediterranean World ... with the ordered world of Popes and Archbishops and even Emperors.

There is a Roman Road going through Dorchester, and the point at which it crossed the Thames can be detected on the Ordnance Survey. But I wonder if it was along the River itself that these kings and this bishop had made their way to Dorchester; if its significance lay in the access which the Thames offered.

Just for kicks, I print a Preface of S Birinus, taken from a liturgical book which has connections with the nearby Abbey of Abendon.

VD: deprecantes, ut beatus confessor Birinus ante thronum gloriae tuae nobis obtineat, quatenus ipsius societate perfruamur in caelis cuius sanctae depositionis festa celebramus in terris.

A bit jejune, I hear you murmuring ... OK, perhaps ... but the Saxon period comes well before the foolish and Rigid modern rule that one may never make a petition in a Preface. And such first-millennium prayers often have an admirable sense that communio, societas with heavenly intercessors, might well be a more sensible liturgical motive than an interest in terrestrial biography.

Back in the days of Bishop Kirk, when the Anglican Diocese of Oxford was under 'Catholic' management, the Bishop of Dorchester (a suffragan see of Oxford) had the right to celebrate Pontifical High Mass in Dorchester Abbey with the full ceremonial of a Diocesan Bishop on just one day a year, the Feast (Double of the First Class) of S Birinus of Dorchester. At one such Dorchester fervorino the Pontiff gave the blessing at the end of Mass with such enthusiasm that his ring flew off his episcopal glove and could only with difficulty be found. 

Ah, happy days. But happiness can still be discovered nearby, where, thanks to Fr John Osman, S Birinus' Faith can yet be found in his little, jewel-like, Victorian Catholic Church.


Anonymous said...

I was once told that the only way to stop Bishop Westwood of Peterborough from making a quick getaway after services was for the National Anthem to be played. Could this be true?

John Patrick said...

Many years ago on a visit to the UK I visited Dorchester Abbey. There were ancestors of the Dandridge Family (for whom I am named) buried in the abbey, who my stepfather's family very likely were descended from. One branch of that family John Dandridge emigrated to the USA and had a daughter Martha who later became the wife of George Washington. You can read about this at the abbey's web site https://www.dorchester-abbey.org.uk/the-american-connection/

Jesse said...

That splendid little church of St. Birinus in Dorchester-on-Thames was a favourite destination of the late Dr. Mary Berry and her Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge. I had the privilege and pleasure of singing the offices of Tenebrae there under her direction, and of enjoying the hospitality of Father Osman, who fed us delicious homemade fish pie.

Dr. Berry arranged that at her death she should be buried in the churchyard of St. Birinus. The church building was too small to accommodate the throng of mourners, so the funeral Mass was celebrated (according to the Usus Authenticus, and very expertly, too) in the remains of Dorchester Abbey, which is now the local CofE parish church. Dr. Berry's casket was thence carried in procession through the streets as we chanted the Litany of the Saints, honouring St. Birinus by invoking him twice, at a higher pitch with lustier singing: Sancte Birine, ora pro nobis! Sancte Birine, ora pro nobis!

Vidi_Aquam said...

What a splendid scene, thank you, Jesse! I had the pleasure of singing (briefly - workshop thing) under the redoubtable Dr Berry in Oz many years ago.

Shaun Davies said...

The great honour for St Birinus Church is surely that Archbishop Lefebvre offered Mass there at least once.