Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Osyth

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OSYTH, OSITH, or OSGITH, Saint (fl. 7th cent.?), is said to have been the daughter of a King Frithwald and his wife Witteburga, a daughter of the Mercian king Penda. Her education was intrusted to the abbess Modwenna, the founder of two monasteries at Pollesworch and Streneshalen [see under Modwenna, or Moninne]. One of these houses was presided over by Edith, sister of King Alfred, the other by Modwenna herself. Osyth was sent by Modwenna to Edith with a book. As she crossed a bridge on her way she was blown into the water and sank. Modwenna and Edith searched for her in much distress. Coming on the third day to the place where she was, Modwenna called her by name, on which she came out of the water alive and well. Her parents made her marry Siger (Sighere), a sub-king of East-Saxons; but she managed to retain her virginity, and in her husband's absence took the veil from two East-Anglian bishops, Ecci and Baedwine (both consecrated 673, Bæda, iv. 5). Siger agreed to her wishes, and gave her Chich in Essex, where she built a nunnery. A band of Danes landed and tried to induce her to apostatise. On her refusal one of them beheaded her. As soon, apparently, as her persecutors had left her, she rose, took up her head, and walked with it in her hands to the church at Chich and knocked at the door. Her friends buried her at Aylesbury, for her parents lived near that place; but she appeared to a smith, and told him that she wished her bones to be taken to Chich, which was accordingly done. The whole story is unhistorical. The names Frithwald (Frithewoldus, Flor. Wig. an. 675), Penda, Sighere (Bæda, iii. 30), Eccl, and Baedwine point to the seventh century, and Witteburga may have been suggested by Mildeburga [q. v.], a granddaughter of Penda, and Streneshalen by Strenaeshaleh or Whitby; while Alfred, Edith, and the Danes assign the narrative to the ninth century. Richard de Beames (d. 1127), bishop of London, founded a priory of Augustinian canons at Chich in honour of St. Osyth, and the place has received the saints name. The first prior of St. Osyths was William de Corbeuil (d. 1136), who was consecrated to the see of Canterbury in 1123 (Will. Malm. Gesta Pontiff, p. 146). Osyth's story was in the now missing 'Sanctilogium' of John of Tinmouth [see Tinmouth], and was thence transferred by Capgrave to his 'Nova Legenda. It is in the 'Acta Sanctorum' of the Bollandists. Leland met with a ' Life ' by Vere, a canon of St. Osyths, and gives some notes from it. Vere made Osyth a niece of Edith, the lady of Aylesbury, and says that the Danes were led by Ingwar and Ubba, but dates her martyrdom 600 (Itin. viii. ii. 41). St. Osyths day is 7 Oct.

[Bollandists' Acta Sanct. 7 Oct. iii. 936 seq., where the saint's story is given from Surius, with notes by Suysken, who attempts to reconcile difficulties; Will, of Malmesbury's Gesta Pontiff, p. 146 (Rolls Ser.); Bede's Hist. Eccl. iii. 30, iv. 5 (Engl. Hist. Soc.); Hardy's Cat. Mat. i. 98 (Rolls Ser.); Dugdale's Monasticon, vi. 308; Leland's Itin. viii. ii. 41 (Hearne); Butler's Lives of the Saints, 7 Oct. x. 151, where St. Osyth's death is put about 870; Dict. Chr. Biog. iv. 167, art. 'Osyth, St.,' where the unhistorical character of the story will be found more fully exposed.]

W. H.