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St. Birstan, Bishop of Winchester
(c.AD 870-934)

Also known as Brinstan, Birstan succeeded to the Bishopric of Winchester upon the resignation of St. Frithestan in May AD 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 devoted to prayers for the dead and, daily, he did his best to help the poor. Birstan founded the Hospital 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, until the Reformation, St. Birstan's silver statue could still be seen. 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, on  4th November AD 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.

 

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