Two further accounts exist of the life of St Frideswide which have been transcribed and analysed by Prof John Blair in his article ‘Frideswide Reconsidered’ in Oxoniensia 1987. He called them Life A and Life B.
Life A is only recorded in its full text in a Worcester manuscript of 1130 (as noted in ‘Saint Frideswide, Patron of Oxford’, by John Blair, 2004 edition, p 10). John Blair, in his article ‘Frideswide Reconsidered’ in Oxoniensia 1987 p 83 suggests from the style of the Latin and the errors in locations, that the author might be a new canon of the recently founded Augustinian Priory.
He adds, ‘If he was active in the Priory at some date close to William of Malmesbury’s visit, he could well have re-worked, into a more unified or edifying form, a body of older material that Malmesbury also used. This material could have been of various kinds: not necessarily a single Vita, but brief lessons or stories, miracles collected in one or many places, and even oral traditions’
Here is a section of the translation of Life A by Lewis Scarpellino, edited by Ruth Buckley.
‘After the proclamation (of the gospel) by Saint Augustine, the English people (of Kent) were taught (the faith) and baptised. Ministers and deacons were then appointed, and churches were built and dedicated throughout that entire region. The numbers of believers grew and, across the whole of England, the church (flourish and) became fruitful through these new children.
Many years later there was a certain king of Oxford called Didan. He married Saffride, a worshipper of God who was prudent in doing good works, and since they were both young, the Lord blessed them with fertility. So Saffride, a respected and honoured queen, conceived and when her time came, she gave birth to a daughter. When the king heard of this, he was full of joy and declared that she should receive new birth (as a Christian) through water and the Holy Spirit. At her baptism she was given the name Frideswide.’
‘The little princess was brought up with diligent care. When she was five years old, they entrusted her to a respected older woman called Algiva to be educated in reading and writing. This young girl, whom God had already foreseen would become a channel of the Holy Spirit, set her mind so much on learning to read that within six months she knew the whole of the psalms. She also used to keep the sayings of the Holy Scriptures buried in her heart, often repeating this prayer, that she might be able to live in the house of the Lord all the days of her life, and that she might see and fulfil the will of God.’
‘But, her mother, whom we have mentioned already, becoming afflicted by a weakness of her body, was overwhelmed by a serious fever and died. The king therefore built a church in the city of Oxford and dedicated it in honour of the sacred Trinity, the spotless Virgin Mary, and all the Saints (in her memory).’
‘Frideswide, by now respected by all, asked her father, King Didan, to grant her the church, which the king therefore did. So, after the passing of her mother, this devout young woman gave herself eagerly to the service of God in watchful prayer both day and night, and with such earnestness that she would often forget to eat, in her efforts to receive the nourishment of her soul.
When Frideswide considered the fleeting nature of the world’s pomp and glory, she realised that, in the big scheme of things, it was only refuse (and not worth having), instead she (considered it of greater value) to give whatever she was able to the poor. She was in the habit of wearing a hair shirt and her food was a small portion of barley bread and a few vegetables, with water to drink.
The whole of the English people admired such great virtue in one so young, and the king rejoiced in (and was proud of) his unique daughter, understanding and accepting her to be a channel of the Holy Spirit.’
The complete translation, The Life of St Frideswide, Life A – 1130, is available. Please email general at palmcrosspublications.co.uk. It is well worth reading as a whole for its simple but beautiful account of the story.
It adds interesting details of her life as well as miracles, and also describes her death which it states as occurring on 19th October 727. It is a straightforward narrative, and beautifully written, but it does confuse Bentone and Binsey geographically as the places to which she escapes. The exact location for Bentone is unknown. Some have suggested Bampton, some Abingdon, but the small hamlet of Binsey still exists on the flood plain north of Oxford, with its small 12th century church to St Margaret of Antioch, and its Frideswide well which has been known for healing miracles.
For more detail about the Binsey site see ‘Binsey: Oxford’s Holy Place’, 2014 edited by Lydia Carr and others.