Posted by: anna | November 17, 2009

St Birnstan of Winchester

Today we commemorate St Birnstan (Brinstan, Beornstan, Byrnstan), Bishop of Winchester (10th century). A student of St Grimbald and another saintly Bishop of Winchester. The Rev Baring-Gould lists his feast but doesn’t write up his life. Orthodoxengland says simply: ‘Successor of St Frithestan as Bishop of Winchester in England. He loved to pray for the departed.’

OrthodoxWiki, happily, is the best readily available source:

‘Saint Birnstan, also known as Byrnstan, Beornstan, Brinstan, Birrstan, was Bishop and Confessor of Winchester, England from 931 to 934 AD. He was born ca. 870, and died in November 934 of natural causes while praying for the dead. His memorial is on November 4. He was the successor of St. Frithestan as Bishop of Winchester in England, who was a disciple of St. Grimbald. [Frithestan is not listed on the Russian calendar, but his feast was celebrated on 10 September; see the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England database.] Birnstan was also a spiritual student of Saint Grimbald, and a Benedictine. He was known for his work with the poor, and his mission of praying for the dead.

‘Of him it is related that he said mass daily for the repose of the departed, and that he was accustomed to visit the Cathedral graveyard at night and chant psalms there for the souls of the dead. On one occasion when he had come to the end of the Psalms, and had added the prayer “may they rest in peace”, he heard the sound of a deep “Amen” proceed from the tombs, like the shout of a mighty army underground. Being a devoted imitator of his Divine Master, Beornstan used to wash every day the feet of certain poor folk, and when the service was finished, and the people had been dismissed, he would remain on the spot for hours, absorbed in devotion. On one of these occasions he retired to his private chamber, and did not reappear. His servants, knowing his habit, abstained the whole day from intruding upon him, but at last in the dusk of the evening, they ventured to look in, and found their master lifeless.

‘Little account was taken of his memory until the days of Bishop Ethelwold, thirty years later, to whom he appeared in a vision accompanied by two other figures. Beornstan, who was the spokesman of this threefold apparition, informed Ethelwold that his companions were (St.) Birinus and (St.) Swithun, that he enjoyed equal honour with them in the other world, and he therefore claimed to be reverenced in like manner on earth. Henceforth he was numbered amongst the local saints, although in a short time Swithun eclipsed him and all others in popular estimation,

‘He founded the Hospital of Saint John in Winchester, which still exists today. ‘

Holy Saint Birnstan, pray to God for us.

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