Icon of St. Birinus of Dorchester - 20th c.- (1BI38)

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Commemorated December 3

After Augustine of Canterbury performed the initial conversions in England, Birinus, a Frank, came to the kingdom of Wessex in 634, landing at the port of Hamwic, now in the St Mary's area of Southampton. During Birinus's brief time at Hamwic, St Mary's Church was founded.

A Benedictine monk, Birinus had been made bishop by Asterius in Genoa, and Pope Honorius I created the commission to convert the West Saxons. In 635, he persuaded the West Saxon king Cynegils to allow him to preach. Cynegils was trying to create an alliance with Oswald of Northumbria, with whom he intended to fight the Mercians. At the final talks between kings, the sticking point was that Oswald, a Christian, would not ally himself with a pagan. Cynegils then converted and was baptised. He gave Birinus Dorchester-on-Thames for his episcopal see. Birinus's original commission entailed preaching to parts of Britain where no missionary efforts had reached and may have included instructions to reach the Mercians. But he ultimately remained in Wessex.

Birinus is said to have been active in establishing churches in Wessex. Birinus supposedly laid the foundations for St Mary's in Reading, and other churches such as the church of St Peter and St Paul, Checkendon, near Reading. Tradition has it that Birinus built the first church at Ipsden, as a small chapel on Berins Hill, about two miles east of the present church. Birinus baptised Cynegils's son Cwichelm (died 636) in 636 and grandson Cuthred (died 661) in 639, to whom he stood as godfather.

Birinus died in Dorchester on 3 December in 649 or 650.