Virginia Barton

Tales of St Frideswide and Oxford


Catholic Herald, 21 April 1989


Review: St Frideswide, Patron of Oxford: The Earliest Texts. Edited and introduced by John Blair (Perpetua Press £3.95)


4025405104_229a632fa1_mIn his introduction Dr Blair writes that the confusions surrounding the life of the 8th century St Frideswide are well worth unravelling. If her story “preserves any reliable facts at all, they are the earliest in the history of Oxford.”

Possibly the author is more interested in the City than the Saint. However, since the two are inseparable, the many fans of St Frideswide will be delighted that our knowledge of her has been enhanced by this authoritative piece of research.

The main sources of the saint’s life, translated here for the first time from Latin, are tantalisingly brief. What is more, they were written down nearly our centuries after her death by different hands. The professional historian must confront these china ales with evidence furnished by circumstance, archeology, topography and so on.

Out of this he hopes to distil facts to which he must then attach levels of probability. Dr Blair casts a coldly critical eye over his data and steps sure-footed through a minefield of myth, legend and tradition – further complicated by the supernatural and miraculous.

Stripped of the romantic embroideries beloved of simple Christians, St Frideswide’s fairy tale of imperilled virtue, escape and hiding emerges more or less intact.

Perpetua Press make books that are a joy to look at and to handle. Kathleen Lindsley’s wood-engravings look even better in the limited edition in hard covers (£21), which is one to collect and drool over.





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