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(I use the Medieval pronunciation- something like ‘Fridesweedah’)


(window by Burne-Jones- Christ Church, Oxford)



After her mother’s death, she, with Aelfgith

(a holy woman) lodged.  Then to Oxford,

to ask her father to build her, forthwith,

a church and convent, where she could board

with twelve other women and take the veil,

in seclusion, and do works of charity.

Her beauty would always attract a male.

Prince Aelfgar would see no disparity

in seeking to attain, through compulsion.

one who was devoted to freely love

all, but who would simply feel revulsion

at sabotage of her call from above.

Discovering his scheme, she fled to a hut,

which sheltered swine, who foraged in the wood.

With well water, she survived three years, but

Aelfgar, furious at her hardihood,

was determined to sustain his assault.

When she returned to Oxford, he made threats

that he would torch the town – all for her ‘fault’ –

and have her ravished by his own subjects.

Frideswide prayed to St Catherine,

to Cecilia, for preservation.

Immediately, the prince was supine:

struck blind, in response to invocation.

English kings feared to enter, from then on,

the city, lest they a similar fate

would be dispensed- the same phenomenon

assail them, if they tried to storm the gate.

The nunnery then received the princess

and she established a seat of learning,

treating loathsome lepers with a largesse

beyond the call of duty, meriting

sainthood; eventual burial, where now

Christ Church Cathedral stands.  Pilgrims flock still

to honour the abbess, whose sacred vow

identified her union with God’s will.


(As for Prince Aelfgar, she restored his sight

and, at her well, a toad would often spit

at a base suitor, whose credentials might

not meet his intended’s family’s ambit.

The nineteenth of October- her Feast Day-

is thought to be the date she passed away.)