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St. Birstan
(died 934)

Born: c.870
Bishop of Winchester
Died: 1st November 934

Also known as Brinstan, Birstan succeeded to the Bishopric of Winchester upon the resignation of St. Frithestan in May 931. Little is known of him, though he was said to have been a man of exceptional piety and charity and was well known as such within his own lifetime. He was edvoted to prayers for the dead and, daily, he did his best to help the poor. Birstan founded the Hosital of St. John, adjoining St. Swithun's Bridge in Winchester: still a wealthy institution in the city today. A Norman Chapel replaced the original in the Broadway and, here, St. Birstan's image can still be seen in the stained glass today. The Bishop is found in extant records witnessing the grant of Stoneham to a Saxon nobleman by King Edward the Elder. He died, while at prayer, after only a very short tenure as prelate, in 934.

Birstan is best known for an incident which occurred some years after his death. Some time at the end of the 10th century, the Bishop of Winchester, St. Aethelwold, visited the graveyard of the Old Minster (Saxon Cathedral) at Winchester, where he was shocked to find himself being addressed by the spirit of St. Birstan, thus:

"I am Birstan, former Bishop of this town" and pointing with his right hand, "This is Birinus, who first preached here," and with his left, "This is Swithun, particular patron of this church and city". St. Aethelwold was so impressed that he reinstated the veneration of the saint as an equal to both the better known Birinus and Swithun, though he was never much known outside Hampshire. His feast day is 4th November.


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