Fremund, Hermit and Martyr
Saint Fremund also known as Freomund was a ninth century saint, Hermit and Martyr in Anglo-Saxon England. He is venerated at both the Village of Prescote, where he is patron saint and at Dunstable Priory.
The following summary of the legend as it runs in John of Tynemouth’s version is given by Sir Thomas Duffus Hardy:
‘Fremund was the son of a pagan king who reigned in England, named Offa, and his queen Botilda, his birth being foretold by a child, who died when three days old. He is baptized by Bishop Heswi, performs many miracles, and converts his parents. Offa resigns his kingdom to his son, who, after governing a year and a half, forsakes the throne to serve God in a desert place, accompanied by Burchard (who afterwards wrote his life) and another attendant. He then embarks in a vessel, sailing from Caerleon-on-Usk, and is driven to a small island called Ylefage, sometimes identified with Lundy, which is infested by demons. Here he lives seven years on fruits and roots. Hinguar and his brother, Hubba ravage England and put King Edmund to death. Offa sends twenty nobles to seek his son throughout England, and, finding him, they implore his aid, and he assents in consequence of a vision in which it is revealed that each of his companions shall appear a thousand to his enemies. He attacks and defeats 40,000 of the enemy with the twenty who have come to seek him, in addition to his two companions; in a great battle at Radford Semele and, while he is prostrate in thanksgiving for the victory, Oswi, formerly one of Offa’s commanders, but who had apostatized and joined the pagans, cuts off his head. Blood spurts over Oswi, who implores absolution and forgiveness, which the head pronounces. Fremund rises and carries his head some distance, when, a spring bursting forth, he washes his wound, falls prostrate and expires.’
The legend has a number of historical inconsistences. Offa’s wife was called Cynethryth not Botilda and the name is not mentioned in any charter or by any chronicler. Bishop Heswi, or Oswy as the name is written in John Lydgate’s Metrical Legend, cannot be identified. Offa died July 29, 796, and was succeeded by his son Ecgfrith, “who had been anointed king in his lifetime” according to William of Malmsbury and Æthelweard. Egferth died the same year as Offa and so none of the legend fits the history on these points. King Edmund was martyred in November 870, 74 years after Offa’s death. and therefore the connection with the Danish invasion seems more probable than that with Offa, and so Fremund, if he existed, should be dated to the mid 9th century.
After his death Fremund’s body was taken to Offchurch in Warwickshire where his tomb became a place of pilgrimage for those seeking healing. In about AD 931 his remains were taken to Cropredy in Oxfordshire. Later, around 1207-1210, some of his relics were removed from Cropredy to a new shrine at Dunstable Priory in Bedfordshire, but his shrine at Cropredy continued to be venerated until early in the 16th century. His shrines at both Cropredy and Dunstable were destroyed in the 1540s during the English Reformation.”
Saint Fremund is sometimes depicted as a king, but it is more likely that he was a noble man’s son, although he may have been related to St.Edmund, King of East Anglia. He was born in Warwickshire near Offchurch but at quite an early age he left home to lead a solitary life as a hermit on an island called Ylefagel, which may be Steep Holm or Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel.
At that time the English were constantly under threat from invasions by the Danes, and it seems that Fremund felt obliged to leave his hermitage to take up arms in defence of the Christian religion and the freedom of his people.
He died in battle at Harbury not far from his home, and it was believed that an apostate kinsman by the name of Oswi was responsible for his death, having allied himself to the heathen Danes in order to further his ambitions. Fremund’s body was taken to Offchurch for
burial, and the fact that the church was founded by King Offa may have been the reason that Fremund has been described as his son.
The Life by William of Ramsey and a later one by the monk John Lydgate of Burry say that his tomb was visited by many pilgrims in search of healing and that in 931 his relics were translated to Cropredy in Oxfordshire. Certainly there was a shrine containing his relics there in the Middle Ages, and there is a meadow by the River Cherwell called Freeman’s Holm. Richard, Prior of the new foundation at Dunstable, was visitor of the Lincoln Diocese in 1206 and found many pilgrims coming to the little church.
Dunstable was a Priory of Austin Canons founded by Henry I late in the twelfth century at the spot where Watling Street crosses the prehistoric Icknield Way. Presumably relics were needed for this church, and in 1210 at least some of St.Fremund’s remains were taken to Dunstable and an altar was dedicated to him.
The shrine was destroyed at the dissolution, but the magnificent nave and Norman doorway remain in what is now the parish church of St. Peter.
For the Shrine at Cropredy see: http://www.cropredyvillage.info/Church%20at%20Cropredy.htm