A Brief History
October 19 marks the feast of Saint Frithuswith, also spelled Frideswide, who passed away on that date in 727 A.D., and for whom a king had died as he tried to force her into marriage!
Frithuswith was born as a princess in England, but became the first abbess of an Oxford double monastery. As such, she is now the patron saint of Oxford.
Before her canonization as a saint, young Princess Frithuswith founded St. Frideswide’s Priory. As such, she became bound to celibacy. Nevertheless, an English king named Algar wanted to marry her and despite her refusal, he was not about to take “no” for an answer.
When Algar tried to abduct her, she reportedly fled to Oxford, but from here we have two different accounts of what happened, neither of which work in Algar’s favor. In one account, she found a ship sent by God to further her efforts to escape from Algar. Meanwhile, the King searched for her in the whole town Oxford, only to have its residents refuse to help him and for him to furthermore go blind. In another version of the story, the potential bride hid in a forest outside Oxford. This time, Algar followed her as she attempted to sneak back into town. Unfortunately for him, he managed to fall off his horse and broke his neck before entering the city gates. Let that be a lesson to anyone, even a king, to try to pursue someone who is not interested. You just may go blind or break your neck!
Keeping in mind that saints are generally associated with miracles, from there Frithuswith’s legend continued to include other miraculous incidents, including praying for a spring to appear in Oxford, which can be visited at the Church of St. Margaret upriver from Oxford, that happens to have healing properties. Yet, the stories of Algar’s doomed pursuit of her are by far the most adventurous of all the miraculous events attributed to her life.
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you think the legends about her are true? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
But did any of the above actually happen? After all, we have competing accounts of her life. As such, we encourage you to look at this article for a discussion of her historicity. You can also visit the website of her official church in Oxford here. For more members of royalty who became saints, please also read this tantalizing top ten list on our sister site.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Andrew Dunning of a section from a 14th-century stained-glass window in the Latin Chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, depicting St. Margaret with dragon, cross, and palm and St. Frideswide with book and sceptre, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.