The well in the woods

21 November 2007

by Margaret Duggan

ST FRIDESWIDE is the patron saint of Oxford, and the city, University, and Cathedral all lay claim to her. But Frilsham, near Yattendon, also has a claim. Legend connects her with Frilsham woods and the well that bears her name, and Frilsham Church is dedicated to her.

Not much is known about her early life. A contemporary of Bede, she was a Mercian princess, and the first abbess of the monastery that become the site of Christ Church Cathedral. One story is that Aethelbald of Mercia attempted to seduce the attractive virgin, but she escaped to Binsey Forest and then Oxford.

The preferred story in Frilsham, says the Revd Tony Lynn, Team Vicar of Yattendon (with Frilsham in his cure), is that it was Algar of Mercia who pursued her, and she fled to Frilsham. But whether it was Aethelbald or Algar, the stories show her forgiving and compassionate nature.

Her pursuer was afflicted with blindness, and was cured by her intercessory prayers. Thus — it was believed — the waters of Frilsham Well became a cure for blindness, and the well provided the only water for Frilsham village until modern times. Now, Frilsham Well is again worthy of St Frideswide. After receiving a grant from the Lottery, its surround has been rebuilt, it has been cleaned, and it is now covered with a layer of perspex and a grille.

Traditionally, children process nearly two miles to the well each year on St Frideswide’s Day, 19 October, carrying a cross and banners (above). This year, the children from Yattendon School, with parents and parishioners, celebrated both the saint and the refurbishment of her well.

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