Birnstan of Winchester

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Saint Birnstan, also known as Byrnstan, Beornstan, Brinstan, Birrstan , was Bishop and Confessor of Winchester, England from 931 to 934 AD. He is commemorated on November 4.


He was born ca. 870, and died in November 934 of natural causes while praying for the dead. He was the successor of St. Frithestan[1] as Bishop of Winchester in England, who was a disciple of St. Grimbald[2]. Birnstan was also a spiritual student of St. 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.[3]

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

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  1. St. Frithestan (+932): A disciple of St Grimbald, he was consecrated Bishop of Winchester in England by St Plegmund (+923). He was bishop for twenty-three years, loved the poor and prayed much for the departed.
  2. St. Grimbald (+901): A monk at Saint Bertin in the north of France. In 885 King Alfred invited him to England. He became Abbot of Winchester and helped restore learning in England.
  3. Stephens, W. R. W. (Very Rev. William Richard Wood, 1839-1902), and Capes, W. W. (Rev. William Wolfe, 1834-1914). The Bishops of Winchester: Part I, Birinus to Stigand. Winchester: Warren and Son, 1907. (On The Internet Archive).