Walk down the middle of Broad Street in Oxford, taking care to avoid being hit by a car or, more likely, a bicycle, and you will see a cross of granite setts, exposed like an ulcer in the smooth tarmac of the road.
The Saxon princess-abbess-saint Frideswide was not the founder of Oxford: there was certainly a settlement at the confluence of the Cherwell and the Thames well before her time. But she has a claim to be one of the founders of the idea of Oxford, the notion of the city as a nexus of learning, religion, and occasional miracles.
A small wooden church on Cardiff Bay testifies to the most significant influx of Norwegians to Britain since the Viking invasions a thousand years earlier. These nineteenth-century Norwegians were more peaceable than their Viking ancestors, interested in trade rather than pillage. And unlike those earlier visitors they worshipped Christ, not Odin.
When she was brought thither and laid before the image of our Lady, her face was wonderfully disfigured, her tongue hanging out and her eyes being in a manner plucked out and laid upon her cheeks: and so, greatly disordered. Then there was a voice heard speaking within her belly, as it had been in a tun, her lips not greatly moving; she all that while continuing by the space of three hours in a trance. The which voice, when it told anything of the joys of heaven, it spake so sweetly and heavenly that every man was ravished with the hearing thereof. And contrary, when it told anything of hell, it spake so horribly and terribly that it put the hearers in a great fear. (From a letter written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to Archdeacon Nicholas Hawkins, 1533)
Early in the summer of 1329, Christine Carpenter, a young woman living in the village of Shere in Surrey, petitioned the Bishop of Winchester, seeking permission to become an anchoress. Several men of the village, including Christine’s father, William (a carpenter by trade), were asked to vouch for her devoutness and virginity.