Posted by: anna | October 20, 2009

St Osyth of Chich

Holy Martyr Princess Osyth of Chich (England) (ca. 700)

The icon image above is from Eleni’s Icons, and the story below is again taken from Miss Dunbar’s book. She also has an entry in Wikipedia and a good if short essay in the ODNB which explains the historical complications of her story – namely, that she may well have been two people. It is also worth searching under the spelling Osith. There is an interesting if ugly project at Waterloo University presenting a digitised version of the Campsey Manuscript (BL Add 70513), a book of saints’ lives written in rhyming French and including the life of St Osyth. From Miss Dunbar:

St. Osith, Oct. 7, April 27 (ASGITH, CYTE, OSGITH, OSITA, OSWITH, OSYTH, SYTHE ; in Spanish, OSTIA) ; 7th or 9th century. Princess of Mercia or of Northumbria. Represented (1) with a stag beside her; (2) with a long key hanging from her girdle; (3) carrying a key and sword crossed, a device which commemorates St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Andrew.

According to the legend, Osith was the daughter of Frithewald, king or prince of some part of Mercia, or subregulus of Surrey; her mother was Wilteburga, or Wilburga, daughter of Penda. The parents of Osith, with St. Erconwald, founded the monastery of Chertsey in (375. Osith was born at Quarendon near Aylesbury. Her childhood was spent under the care of the two holy abbesses, ST. EDITH (3) and ST. MODWENNA ; she was sometimes with one and sometimes with the other. Modwenna founded monasteries at Burton – on – Trent in Derbyshire, Stramshall in Staffordshire, and at Polles worth in Warwickshire. One clay in winter, Edith sent Osith to take a book to Modwenna, to point out to her a particularly interesting passage she had discovered. To reach Modwenna s house, Osith had to cross a stream by a bridge. The stream was swollen, the wind was high, she was blown into the water, and remained there for two days before she was dis covered. Edith thought she was safe with Modwenna, who, not expecting her visit, was not surprised at her nonappearance. On the third day, Edith, wondering that her pupil had not returned with an answer to her message, came to Modwenna. Great was theconsternation of the abbesses when they found they had lost their charge. They went to search for her. Following the banks of the stream, they saw the child lying at the bottom, holding the book open at the passage she had been told to show to Modwenna. The abbesses prayed for her restoration, and com
manded her to arise from the water and come to them ; which she did, she, her dress and the book quite uninjured.

After the death of Modwenna, Osith returned to her parents, who soon accepted for her an offer of marriage from Sighere, king of Essex, who reigned jointly with Sebba, 664-686. Sighere had relapsed into heathenism, but promised to become a Christian on marrying Osith. Osith’s inclinations turned towards a religious life, she would rather have been an abbess than a queen, and had secretly made a vow of celibacy. Her fate was decided for her, and she was given to Sighere, but still prayed that she might have no husband but the Lord. On her marriage, she went with her husband, probably to London, which was then the capital of Essex. On one pretence or other, she declined for several days to receive the king in her bower – a separate house for herself and her attendant ladies, within the enclosure of the royal residence. At last her contrivances were exhausted, and so was the king s patience. Her seclusion came to a sudden end and her husband stood before her. Still she prayed that she might keep her vow. Sighere began to protest that without her, life held no happiness, no interest for him. But even while he spoke, there was a sound of eager voices and hurrying feet. Some of his lords cried, ‘The stag, the stag !’ and close to the gate was the largest stag that ever was seen. Up sprang Sighere, and with all his Court, started in pursuit. Osith regarded this interruption as an answer to her prayers, and took his departure as a release from her engagement. She sent in all haste for Bishops Acca and Bedwin. When the king returned, after a chase of four or five days, he found her a veiled nun. He generously gave her an estate at Chich in Essex, and built her a churchand a monastery, where she soon gathered many holy nuns about her, and attained to wonderful sanctity.

After many years, the Danes made a raid on that coast. Their leader tried by threats and entreaties to make Osith renounce her religion, but in vain, and incensed at his failure, he cut off her head. As it fell to the earth, a fountain bubbled up, which for many years after wards had a wonderful power of curing diseases. Osith rose to her feet, and carried her head in her hands to the church, staining the door with blood as she opened it. Her family claimed her body, but the saint intimated by visions and other signs that she chose to rest in her own monastery. There, accordingly, she was placed in a rich shrine by Maurice, bishop of London. By other accounts, Osith was sister, niece, or granddaughter of the Northumbrian king, St. Oswald. She has also been called the mother of King Offa. Her story is so full of anachronisms that it is probable that the transmitters of the legend have confused two persons together. St. Osith’s church and estate were afterwards called by her name, and still bear it, pronounced in the native dialect, Toosey.


Holy St Osyth, pray to God for us.


  1. Wow. What an amazing hagiography. Holy St. Osyth, pray to God for us.

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