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.