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Asterius consecrates Birinus as bishop
Detail of a stained glass window in Dorchester Cathedral

Birinus († December 3, 650 ) was the first bishop in Wessex . There is no reliable information about its origin. He was ordained bishop by Archbishop Asterius in Genoa . Pope Honorius I sent him to missionary work in the Kingdom of Mercia .

In 634 he set foot on English soil near Portchester . On his way into the interior of the country he met the West Saxons , who also still adhered to their old religion . So he went to the court of the King of Wessex and asked for support for his mission. Cynegils allowed Birinus to preach anywhere in his kingdom, but he himself was reluctant to convert.

Cynegils tried at this time to conclude an alliance against Mercia with the influential Northumbrian king Oswald . The two rulers met at the royal court in Wessex. The only hurdle in the negotiations was that King Oswald, as a Christian, did not want to enter into an alliance with a pagan . So Cynegils decided to embrace the new faith. To reinforce the alliance, Oswald's marriage to the daughter of Cynegils was decided. Cynegils was baptized in 635 with much of his family and entourage.

The bishop received the old Roman settlement of Dorcic as a gift, where he built a cathedral. King Cynegils died in 643, five years later the new King Cenwalh commissioned Birinus to build a monastery church in Winchester . Other churches in Wessex were founded by Birinus: St. Mary's, in Reading ; St. Helen's in Abingdon, Berkshire and the parish church of Taplow, Buckinghamshire.

That was the birth of the Diocese of Wessex. Birinus became their first bishop and worked here until his death on December 3, 650. His grave in Dorchester became a famous place of pilgrimage . In 680 his remains were transferred by Bishop Hedda of Wessex to the Church of Winchester, where they finally found their final resting place on September 4, 972 in a richly decorated shrine.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of Birinus:

AD 634
… This year also Bishop Birinus first preached baptism to the West-Saxons, under King Cynegils. The said Birinus went thither by the command of Pope Honorius; and he was bishop there to the end of his life
AD 635
This year King Cynegils was baptized by Bishop Birinus at Dorchester; and Oswald, king of the Northumbrians, was his sponsor.
AD 639
This year Birinus baptized King Cuthred at Dorchester, and received him as his son.
AD 650
This year Egelbert, from Gaul, after Birinus the Romish bishop, obtained the bishopric of the West-Saxons.
((This year Birinus the bishop died, and Agilbert the Frenchman was ordained.))

Remembrance days:

  • Catholic Church: December 3rd
  • Anglican Church: September 4th


Web links

Commons : Birinus  - collection of images, videos and audio files