Wednesday, December 7, 2011

St. Birinus and St. Osmund

John Whitehead reminds us of two saints: St. Birinus (at Dorchester on Thames) and St. Osmund (at Salisbury Cathedral):

St Birinus, whose feast it is today [December 5], was the missionary bishop who evangelised the mid-Thames valley and later the Kingdom of Wessex. He died in 649 0r 650. Originally buried at Dorcherster on Thames his relics were later tranlated to Winchester, although there were relics and a shrine, of which part remains in a modern reconstruction, at Dorchester. This served as the site of the of a cathedral until 1072 when the cathedra of the united east-midland dioceses was established at Lincoln.

The former cathedral, which retained for some time pro-cathedral status, was refounded as an Augustinian priory, now known as Dorchester Abbey, and its surviving church is one of the most interesting examples of a medium-sized monastic building and its gradual eveolution. It has some wonderful medieval glass and carving, both on the building itself and in the fine selection of tomb effigies.

More on Dorchester Abbey here and more on the Catholic church in Dorchester here.


Were today not Sunday [December 4] it would be the feast of St Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury, who died in 1099, but was only canonised in 1457 - the last pre-reformation recognition of sanctity for an English saint. There is an online life of him here.

The cathedral he knew at Old Sarum was replaced in the thirteenth century by the present Salisbury cathedral, and it was there that his bones were enshrined, and to that building that my thoughts turn. Or rather to some of its features which were destroyed in the eighteenth century. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my revulsion at the destruction of historic and beautiful buildings and monuments, and here is another example of what shocks me.

At the end of the 1780s the Chapter of Salisbury called in as their architect James Wyatt. Now as an exponent of Neo-Classicism he was fine - witness the library at Oriel built in 1788. Let loose on a medieval cathedral he was lethal. Durham, Hereford and Salisbury bear witness to his ravages. If at Hereford he had in part the excuse of the collapse of the west tower in 1786, and at Durham his schemes were stopped short of destroying the Galilee Chapel, at Salisbury there seems to be neither excuse nor restraint.

Demolishing two later Hungerford and Beauchamp chantry chapels of 1464 and 1481 which flanked the Trinity Chapel at the east end can, I suppose, be explained, but not excused, as restoring the original configuration of the eastern chapels. . . .

More on St. Osmund of Salisbury here.

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