Pilgrimage

Who was St Frideswide?

St Frideswide is the name of a Saxon princess and healer who became the Patron Saint of Oxford. Her name means ‘Peace’ (frithes) ‘Strong’ (withe).

There are no contemporary accounts of Frideswide’s life. However, legend suggests that the young Frideswide became a nun. In spite of her vow of chastity, she was propositioned by King Algar of Leicester who was determined to marry her. As a result, she was forced to flee the city for the countryside and found religious sanctuary in a monastery close to the Thames.

After a lengthy chase, God struck King Algar blind. Realising the error of his ways, Algar asked Frideswide for forgiveness and she granted it, after which his sight was restored. Frideswide went on to have a reputation as a healer and a beloved figure of great piety and prayerfulness.

St Frideswide founded the religious community on which Cathedral is based. Her priory had a missionary function of catechesis and teaching, and providing for poor and sick. She is believed to have died in 727.

St Frideswide’s Priory was destroyed and rebuilt more than once. But following the completion of the Priory in 1180, the then Archbishop transferred her remains into a shrine. Her remains were later placed in the present shrine in 1289, by which time the saint had become an object of veneration and pilgrimage due to her healing miracles.

The Shrine – the oldest monument in the Cathedral – was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation and St Frideswide’s bones were buried elsewhere in the Cathedral. Fragments of the original shrine were recovered in the nineteenth century, and the Shrine you see today is the result of painstaking reconstruction.

The St Frideswide Window by Edward Burne-Jones in the Latin Chapel tells the story of St Frideswide in a number of stained-glass panels.

Every year, we celebrate the Feast of St Frideswide on or near her saint’s day, 19 October.

What is pilgrimage?

Pilgrimage is a universal theme. Its roots are centuries old. Since the very first people to hear the Gospel story journeyed to Jerusalem to walk in the steps of Jesus, Christians have found spiritual insight, wisdom and healing in travelling to the places that are special to our faith.

Pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to a sacred site. The travelling and the destination are inseparable – the journey is as important as the end. It is a physical thing: it is in the action of travelling, of encountering the new and the unfamiliar, of allowing ourselves time and space away from the routine of everyday life that we receive insights and spiritual growth.

But although the journey can take many days or weeks, shorter pilgrimages are possible too. All you need is a pilgrim spirit, a recognition that life is a journey, coming from God and returning to God.

As we walk together, pilgrims rather than strangers, our encounters, our conversations, our experiences good or bad, can act as a stimulus towards further spiritual reflection and dialogue – not stumbling blocks, but stepping-stones. And always as we do this we remember the pilgrim who comes towards us from the opposite direction. In Jesus Christ, God comes in search of us

What is on offer for pilgrims today?

People have always gone on journeys to enrich their spiritual lives. The desire seems deeply ingrained in human nature.

Pilgrimage is enjoying something of a boom today. Large numbers of people – including many who would not consider themselves Christians – are embarking on some of the great pilgrim paths. The best-known is probably the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.
Visitors to our Cathedral are welcome to make their visit in a pilgrim spirit. Pilgrims are most welcome to pray at the Shrine of St Frideswide. You are particularly invited to use the diocesan pilgrim prayer:

Pilgrim God,
You are our origin and our destination.
Travel with us, we pray, in every pilgrimage of faith, and every journey of the heart.
Give us the courage to set off, the nourishment we need to travel well, and the welcome we long for at our journey’s end.
So may we grow in grace and love of you and in the service of others.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen