Birinus of Dorchester

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Our father among the saints Birinus of Dorchester was a member of Pope Honorius' missionary initiative of the seventh century to Great Britain. He was the first Bishop of Dorchester and is acclaimed the Apostle of Wessex. He is commemorated on December 3.


Nothing is known of his early life. Birinus was consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Asterius in Genoa. In 634, Pope Honorius I sent Birinus to sow the seed of the holy faith among the pagans of Mercia. Upon his arrival in southern Britain in 635, Birinus encountered the pagan Saxons in the valley of the Thames River. While the original commission to Birinus entailed preaching to parts of Britain not reached by missionary efforts, and included reaching the Mercians, in the end he stayed in the kingdom of the West Saxons, or Wessex as it became known.

There, he persuaded Cynegils, the king of the West Saxons, to allow him to preach the Gospel of Christ. By 635, Bp. Birinus had converted Cynegils to Christianity, and ultimately his family. The conversion of Cynegils became a major event for Bp. Birinus as king Oswald of Northumbria had come to Cynegils seeking the hand of of the king's daughter and, thus, became king Cynegils' sponsor at his baptism by Bp. Birinus before Oswald was married to Cynegils' daughter.

King Cynegils also gave to Birinus the old Roman town of Dorcic (Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire) as the site of his see. Later, King, Cenwalh, who succeeded Cynegils after his death in 643, invited Bp. Birinus to establish an important minster at Winchester. Bp. Birinus continued as a very active missionary establishing many churches in Wessex. These became the beginnings of the See of Wessex of which Birinus became the first Bishop and remained so until his death in 649.

After his repose in 649, St. Birinus was buried at his episcopal see of Dorchester. About 690, St. Hedda, bishop of Winchester, removed his relics to Winchester that later superseded Dorchester as the seat of the see. Later, Birinus' relics were translated on September 4, 980 to a new shrine by St. Ethelwold in response to a Divine vision.

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Birinus of Dorchester
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Bishop of Dorchester
Succeeded by:
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