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St Frideswide of Oxford
Saint Frideswide of Oxford, among the Columbine leaves. Christ Church, Oxford, a detail from the St. Frideswide shrine. 1289. Frideswide, born around 680AD was the beautiful daughter of Didan, King of Oxford. As a young woman she became a nun and lived with twelve companions in a monastery founded for her by her father. During this time she became the focus of attention for Algar, or Aelfgar, King of Leicester, who determined to have her for his wife. Frideswide, however, rejected his approaches and so an enraged Algar, sent some men to abduct her, but as his men approached Frideswide they were struck blind. They immediately repented and had their sight restored, then returned to Algar who decided to go to Frideswide himself. As Algar set out to seize Frideswide an angel came to warn Frideswide and she was able to flee, probably by water, to Binsey where she hid in a wood called Thornbury. Algar, like his men before him, was also mysteriously struck blind. It is uncertain whether Algar’s sight was restored, or whether he remained blind; versions of the legend vary. Frideswide, however, devoted the rest of her life to prayer and performing miracles. She died on October 19th 727, or 735 and was buried on the south side of the church, somewhere in the vicinity of the Latin Chapel. A shrine was built to her in 1289, but was destroyed during the Reformation in the 1530s, the pieces being thrown down a well where they remained until the 1870s, when they were retrieved and reassembled. Frideswide’s bones were rescued and reburied, though the location remains uncertain. More recently, in 2002, the shrine has undergone an extensive and sensitive restoration and has been moved slightly north of its previous Victorian siting, into the Latin Chapel. This detail is from one of the carved spandrels around the top of the shrine, depicting St. Frideswide hiding among various types of foliage: sycamore, oak and ivy (north face), fig and vine with grapes (east face), celandine, maple and columbine (south face) and white bryony and hawthorn (west face). This accurate handmade miniature of St. Frideswide hiding among the columbine is made using the same reconstructed stone used in the restoration of the actual shrine. Approx height: 4 3/8 inches (11 1/4 cm), Weight: 600 grams.