Legend of St Osyth

There are differing versions of the legend of St Osyth, the most commonly quoted version of the legend says she was born in Quarrendon in Buckinghamshire. Her father was Frithwald a Mercian sub-king of Surrey and her mother was Wilburga, daughter of King Penda of Mercia. Osgyth as she was then known, was educated by her two aunts, Modwin and Edith at Polesworth, Bicester or Aylesbury. One day whilst taking a book from St Edith to St Modwin, Osgyth was blown off a bridge into a deep river where she drowned. Yet three days later the prayers of St Modwin restored her to life and she rose from the river still clutching the book.

St Osyth

Her ambitious father (maybe with the help of her uncle) arranged for Osgyth to marry Sighere, King of Essex. Osgyth wanted desperately to become a nun yet she obeyed the will of her father. On the day of the marriage with the festivities underway, Sighere spotted a magnificent white hart nearby and gathering his courtiers around him he set off to hunt the hart, leaving Osgyth and the guests.

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Osgyth was annoyed and she took the opportunity to take the veil from two Bishops. Upon his return Sighere was extremely upset but he eventually saw that Osgyth was strongly committed to her faith so he gave her land in East Essex to start a convent. The hamlet of Cic (Chiche) was the location and the village later took her name.

The convent became renowned for its piety and good works but the legend says in 653 a raiding party of Vikings landed nearby led by Inguar and Hubba. The heathen raiders tried to make Osgyth pray to their gods but she refused. So they drew a sword and as Osgyth kneeled praying they decapitated her.

But then to the amazement of all the body of St Osyth stood up and picked up her head and walked a third of a mile to the church door where she knocked three times and collapsed. A healing spring emerged on the spot where her head had fallen.

But how much of this is truth and how much legend we have yet to find out.

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Certainly there was an Osgyth (Osyth) who was born in Quarrendon near Aylesbury but about 650. Her parents were indeed Wilburga and Frithewald both with Mercian royal connections. Writings suggest at the age of thirteen and a half she married Sighere – Joint King of Essex. But it is also thought that they had a son Offa who became King of the East Saxons upon his father’s death. Offa was King for only three years before being deposed or abdicating and going to Rome with his cousin Coenred of Mercia to become a monk. More detailed information is available in the Museum library.

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