Today (11 May) in the calendar of early British saints we commemorate the Holy Martyr Fremund of Offchurch (866). I was not optimistic about tracking down (or dredging up) details of his life – another dismally obscure saint of these isles, ho hum. But no indeed – the story of St Fremund is a perfect little pocket vita, with miraculous birth, murder, betrayal, lost princes, headless corpses and holy wells and everything.
The source is Lydgate’s Lives of St Edmund and St Fremund (Book Three is about Fremund) – for some reason it was never edited as an EETS volume, and Stephen Reimer has not finished his hypertext edition (although it is linked to from elsewhere as ‘complete’, hah). Anthonys Bale and Edwards (as in ASG Edwards, the feared and fabled and fabulously busily-published don, once of UVic and now, dear goodness, of De Montfort University…) have recently produced a nice edition, for which I am not prepared to personally shell out thirty of your good British pounds, and of the two copies in Oxford (neither of which is in the English Faculty Library!) one is not available to me and the other is not borrowable! I don’t know where Lydgate got it from; doubtless Bale & Edwards must go into this in some detail somewhere. From celt-saints, helpful as always, not least in citing sources:
Martyred c.866. Saint Fremund is sometimes depicted as a king, but it is more likely that he was a noble man’s son, although he may have been related to St.Edmund, King of East Anglia. He was born in Warwickshire near Offchurch but at quite an early age he left home to lead a solitary life as a hermit on an island called Ylefagel, which may be Steep Holm or Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel. At that time the English were constantly under threat from invasions by the Danes, and it seems that Fremund felt obliged to leave his hermitage to take up arms in defence of the Christian religion and the freedom of his people.
He died in battle at Harbury not far from his home, and it was believed that an apostate kinsman by the name of Oswi was responsible for his death, having allied himself to the heathen Danes in order to further his ambitions. Fremund’s body was taken to Offchurch for burial, and the fact that the church was founded by King Offa may have been the reason that Fremund has been described as his son.
The Life by William of Ramsey and a later one by the monk John Lydgate of Bury say that his tomb was visited by many pilgrims in search of healing and that in 931 his relics were translated to Cropredy in Oxfordshire. Certainly there was a shrine containing his relics there in the Middle Ages, and there is a meadow by the River Cherwell called Freeman’s Holm. Richard, Prior of the new foundation at Dunstable, was visitor of the Lincoln Diocese in 1206 and found many pilgrims coming to the little church.
Dunstable was a Priory of Austin Canons founded by Henry I late in the twelfth century at the spot where Watling Street crosses the prehistoric Icknield Way. Presumably relics were needed for this church, and in 1210 at least some of St.Fremund’s remains were taken to Dunstable and an altar was dedicated to him.
The shrine was destroyed at the dissolution, but the magnificent nave and Norman doorway remain in what is now the parish church of St. Peter (Bowen, Farmer, Hole, Stanton).
And look! there are illustrated manuscript copies of the Lydgate text – keyword search ‘fremund’ and 10 MSS will pop up 😀 And these clearly show that the story is so much more detailed and interesting than the above bare-bones summary – a nine-day rainbow at Fremund’s birth, to start off with.
Here, Fremund’s head speaks to his murderer:
‘Ther fil anoon a wondreful myracle
By mercy shewyd unto this woful wiht
At whos request ther was no long obstacle
But that his praier was herd anoon ryht
The hed off Fremund by grace off goddis myht
Wher as it lay dide sodenly abrayde
And unto Oswy evene thus it sayde:’
But what Fremund’s head said to Oswy will have to wait until I can get hold of a copy of either a facsimile or an edition!
Holy Martyr Fremund, pray to God for us.