The Feast of Saint Fremund

Fremund's Feast
2011 the musicians assemble and Malcolm tells Bishop Colin where to go....

The spectre of an ancient Saxon warrior saint stalks the lanes and by-ways of Cropredy as villagers prepare every two years to celebrate the Feast of St. Fremund in grand style. Parishioners  look forward to welcoming a variety of distinguished guests of honour, for our first festival ion 2011 we were joined by Bishop Colin of Dorchester. The central focus of the event is the promenade performance of a specially commissioned “Miracle Play”, a colourful costumed procession with music and dance. The play takes place at Prescote Manor before culminating in a service in the Church.  The service, modeled on the annual St Frideswide Service in Oxford’s Christchurch Cathedral, features a song written for the occasion with words by villager Stephen Wass and tune by local musician Chris Leslie.  Following medieval tradition the play tells the story of St. Fremund’s life according to legend, with lots of drama and humour.

Son of the Saxon King Offa of Mercia, according to legend St. Fremund led a colourful life. A pious Christian hermit, on his father’s death he was persuaded to lead an army to defeat Danish raiders which he achieved by miraculous means. Decapitated by a rival nobleman after the battle, he picked up his head, walking away, and was buried at his father’s palace in Offchurch. His remains were subsequently moved to Prescote and Cropredy as a result of various strange visions, and the intervention of crippled virgins. In reality he was probably a victim of  “pilgrimage wars” during the Medieval period.  His relics were closely linked to Prescote and moved to Cropredy at the time of St. Birinus, Bishop of Dorchester. His chantry chapel, now replaced by that dedicated to him in the south aisle of the nave, features in wills as late as the 16th century. His remains were finally bought by and moved to Dunstable Priory during the reign of King John.

The event opens at lunchtime with St. Fremund’s Fair, an outdoor gathering where people can enjoy traditional food, drink and entertainment, with some medieval themed stalls. The performance of the miracle play begins during the early afternoon with a procession out to Prescote followed by the first scene. The cast and audience then proceed round the village acting out the legend before forming up for a final procession to the church for the last scene followed by a special service.    

Fremund's Feast     Fremund's Feast
2013 dancing at the feast and a confrontation with a Saxon warrior

Fremund's Feast
2013 The procession leaves for Prescote

Fremund’s Feast

Cast:     Narrators     Fremund    Oswy      Angel     Virgin 1    Virgin 2    Virgin 3    Albert     Villager    Dunstable

Part One – Prescote garden

Now, come close and listen / our story starts!
And hear us tell / our Fremund’s fated tale
Of willow trees / and standing sentry stones
Of virgins / and of  sow’s seven sucklings pale

And how the dead once dead / can come to walk
And seek four times, four / to find their rest
And how / of all the wind wide round wide world
At last found here / that Cropredy is blest.

Fremund's Feast
2011 On the lawn at Prescote

Our story is of Offa’s / first born son.
Upright he was / and good and fair and true
And deeply dedicated,  / with his life,
God’s own bounty / and blessings to pursue.

Not for him  / the lofty stone struck tower
Or famous fire-lit / feasting  wood bound hall;
For him, a voyage / to Lundy’s sacred Isle
Lasting long / yet loving God’s clarion call.

So, / with a bonded band of brothers there
They laboured lustily, / both day and night,
To build a beautiful chapel / to Gods Grace,
To rest at last / and be blessed all in His sight.

Their willing work is done / but peace there’s none. 
Through Mercia / war’s wicked clamour blows
So soon he is recalled / to martial ways.
Takes up his singing sword / and bent back bow.

For kingly Offa’s noble course / is run.
The king has breathed his last / and passed away
And now a leading light / must take up arms
To take his men / into the fighting fray.

The Mercians stand strong / against the pagan Danes.
The battle rages / across a bloodied field
And Fremund’s own war band / brings down the foe,
Fighting with fury / axe to axe and shield to shield

At last the day is done,  / the victory won
And bodies burn / aloft on pine wood pyres.
Fremund rests his sword / and regards the flames
And then from out the darkness / Oswy draws near.

“Kinsman the day is ours, / the victory yours,
Take up this kingly crown / to rule us well.
Give up your godly ways / and island home
And in your father’s hall  / rejoice to dwell.”

“My father’s hall / in heaven’s kingdom lies.
I have no father / except He who rules
Us all, demands our duty / and our love.
This joyless job is done. / The rest’s for fools!”   

“Fools indeed!  / The kingdom’s peace lies in your
Royal hand,  / cast it away for a hermit’s… “

“Enough! My mind’s made up, / my future’s clear,
Call my brothers, / To Lundy we return.”

Oswy,  blood bothered / takes his pitted sword
And drawing breath / strikes off Fremund’s head, then
Stands all smeared / and splattered in his saintly gore
Breaks down / and repents his sudden storm.

Fremund's Feast
2011 Oswy breaks down following Fremund's murder.     

“For Mercia’s sake / this murderous manic thrust
Has rolled  all in the dust  / his royal locks,
But now, Oh God, just see / he’s standing still,
Bends down to cradle / his own head, then walks!”

All hushed in awe / the brothers gather round
And watch with Oswy / as unsteadily at first
Then with growing confidence  / Fremund casts
 around / as if looking for a place to ease his thirst.

Fremund's Feast
2013 Villagers look on as Fremund starts to walk.

Trailed by a growing band / Fremund stalks
Across the land / Until he comes close to
The Royal palace / at Offchurch Bury.
There he kneels / and at his feet appears a spring

Of the purest water / any have seen.
Then gentle like a mother’s touch / he washes
His bleeding battered head / and bloodied hands.
Then embracing death / he enters God’s kingdom.

Now pious and penitent / Oswy kneels
And prays to the new made saint / for forgiveness.
The crystal spring bubbles clear   / as Oswy
In turn / washes away his sinfulness.

“Now all you brothers / standing close about
Let work begin / on Fremund’s Godly grave,
A resting place / for eternity’s span
And with this task / we pray our souls we’ll save.”   

Part Two – Prescote, by the water’s edge

But sadly / for sixty six lonely years
Fremund’s sepulchre / sinks into the clay.
His brothers long gone / his tomb takes on
An air of sorry neglect / and decay.

A saintly man / should not be treated so.
His holy bones / should rest in hallowed ground
Watched over / by some pious priestly folk
not covered over / by some mossy mound.

Fremund's Feast
2011 three crippled virgins and their mother abbess.   

And so one day / three crippled virgins came,
Passing that way,  / and found themselves compelled
To stop.  / Halted in their tracks by the sight
Of a golden column of light / displayed.

A voice, / angelic in its tone, spoke loud
to this tiny crowd / and said,
ANGEL                        “These bones,
Remove them / from this deathly place, go south
Until you find a spot  / where five priests home

At the confluence / of the Bradmere and
The Cherwell stream / where  willows wise
Nod and dream / and the goodly people there
Will care  / for Fremund’s corpse.”

Fremund's Feast
2013 The virgins receive their instructions from a passing angel.

“I, from the moment of my birth, / was blind.
Have passed my waking hours / in death like dark.   
For the sake of God’s love / and my own soul
I willingly / will undertake this task.”

“I was taken by sickness / which stopped up
My ears and now for years / in silence live.
For the sake of God’s love / and my own soul
I joyfully / my sweated labour give.”

“I dumb have been / since man’s hands with violence
Struck and beat me / about my head.
For the sake of God’s love / and my own soul
I gratefully  / will minister to the dead.”

Fremund's Feast
2013 Fremund's bones are gathered up.

So these three / patiently and reverently
Dug down, / the saintly bones to discover.
Then wrapping them up / in fine linen cloth
Made their way / to the meeting of the rivers.

Once arrived / at Prescote’s round grassy knoll
The three there were met / by five priests, grey haired.
They solemnly / their burden gave and with
Glad voices praising God / each then was cured.

Long centuries now must pass / as Fremund’s
Body lies under grass and stone / and willows
Grow by the sacred meadow / where he rests
And cattle and sheep graze / and the Plough draws out the furrow.

Fremund's Feast
2013 Even the cattle are fascinated.

Fremund's Feast
2011 The procession crosses the canal bridge.

Part Three – By the churchyard wall

Memory’s a fragile thing / and ticking time
Erases all / and Fremund’s grave is lost.
Only the lush and healing grass / cropped by
The sickly cattle / gives notice of the past.

In distant Jerusalem / the harried
Holy city sees / our next scene
And Egelbert ,  / a pilgrim who every
Day spends time in prayer,  / who every night dreams.

Who dreams of willow trees / and whitened stones
And green grassed banks / and weed and rippled water
Who hears a voice,  / who hears an angel’s voice
That proclaims  / there’s something he ought to do.

Three times, three  he dreams, / every night the same.
The angel presses him / and persuades him
But Egelbert’s / no man’s nor angel’s fool,
Has no time for visions / forced into his dreams.

“Now listen well.  / My message is clear.
A task God honours you with / and in token
Of His good will / and blessings freely given
Gives you this charge  / and these sacred signs.

Blessed saint Fremund / lies lonely in a
Prescote corner / hard by a white standing stone
A giant willow tree / and a white sow
with seven suckling offspring.  / Find his bones.

Dig them up  / and with all reverence take
Them to our blessed brother / Birinius,
Bishop in Dorchester,  / who’ll build for them
A golden shrine / A jewelled cask, a reliquary.”

Fremund's Feast
2011 Angel wrestling, Albert comes off worse.

“I can not do it!  / I will not do it!
My devotions here / are incomplete.
I cannot leave! / I will not leave!
Be gone! Away! No more! / I’ll not be beat.”

And Egelbert in his distress / wrestles
with the angel,  / writhes restlessly in his bed
And awakes / with a dislocated arm!
It’s a sign , it served him right,  / everyone said.

So armed / with sealed Papal permissions
He proffers his farewells / and takes a boat
To hurry back to England’s shore / and make
his way by Cropredy / to Prescote.

Each sign is true! / Past tree and stone and sow
He finds the bones / and clasps them to his heart.
Then keen to complete / his holy task
He loads them carefully…  / onto a cart.

A patient ox lashed to the cart / now starts
To rumble its way / along the rough track
But close to Cropredy / the ox stops dead.
No going forward.  / and no going back.

“You heartless beast,  / my task’s not halfway done.
There’s no excuse  / to simply stop and stand
And chomp on the grass / in that gormless way.
Hey you fellow there! / Kindly lend a hand.”

“Now what you got there / is a miracle.
Let’s be clear,  / that cart’s going nowhere.
Old Prescote’s saint’s  / had enough carting round,
I don’t see you’ve any choice.  / Bury him here!”

So Fremund came at last  / to Cropredy
And for him / a shrine of silver was made
And all about four lamps  / were set to burn
And pilgrims came  / to worship… and to trade.

Part Four - In the Church

So like the tranquil / River Cherwell’s flow
The years turn round / once more
And all Cropredy’s / quiet prosperity
Is calmly laid at / Saint Fremund’s door.

But Dunstable’s / the coming place to be.
King John is keen to see / redevelopment.
The priory there / clearly needs a boost.
What better / that the relics of a saint?

“I am the wealthy Prior / of Dunstable.
This ancient church / is really quite unstable.
Those bones you have / are surely portable.
I am certain we can all / be reasonable.”

“We’re not having this! / To disturb the peace
Of Saint Fremund / would be a fearful shame
He’s blessed our flocks / and watched over our crops
Move  him again? / We’ll not take the blame.”

“Well all that may be true / but I tell you
This old pile of Saxon stone’s / about to crash
And what I’m offering you / right now, today
In an offer you can’t refuse / is cash.”

“I think that proud prelate / has us over
A  barrel. / The church must be rebuilt
But to loose Saint Fremund’s / holy influence…
I just can’t stand the thought, / can’t bear the guilt.”

“Well here’s a thought / Saint Fremund’s body’s bones
We’ll share. / Some come now to Dunstable,
Some, um… a few maybe / stay in Cropredy
And the number of Fremund’s  / devotees is doubled!”

So Fremund’s bones,   / well at least some of them,
We moved to Dunstable  / and so great was
The joy there / that the King declared three days

But we believe  / that through reformation
And revolution / some part of Fremund
Remains underneath / these flags, slabs and stones   
Blessing this village round. / Praise God! Amen.

Fremund's Feast
2011 Fremund's shrine in Fremund's Chapel.

The Liturgy of St. Fremund

Please gather round for the final scene.  You are then invited to sit for the Service. Following the welcome and prayer, our service is divided into four sections, each section beginning with verses from the Ballad, played and sung by our musicians.

Welcome by minister

Hymn.  Be Thou My Vision
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art;
Be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
Be thou ever with me, and I with thee, Lord;
Be thou my great Father, and I thy true son:
Be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Be thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight;
Be thou my whole armour, be thou my true might:
Be thou my soul’s shelter, be thou my strong tower,
O raise thou me heavenward, great Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise:
Be thou mine inheritance now and always;
Be thou and thou only the first in my heart:
O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.

High King of Heaven, thou heaven’s bright Sun,
O grant me its joys after victory is won;
Great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be thou my vision, O ruler of all.

Voice 1. 
Empower me to be a bold participant,
Rather than a timid saint in waiting,
In the difficult ordinariness of now;
To exercise the authority of honest,
Rather than to defer to power,
Or deceive to get it;
To influence someone for justice,
Rather than impress anyone for gain;
And, by grace, to find treasures
Of joy, of friendship, of peace
Hidden in the fields of the daily
You give me to plough.

Part 1. Building the chapel

Come gather round and listen close            
And hear us tell our tale                    
Of saintly sons and singing swords
And Fremund’s  sorry fate        
For Fremund was King Offa’s son
A Christian born was he       
He left behind his royal home
to sail across the sea.           

With brothers twelve he ventured forth
And made for Lundy’s isle
And when God’s chapel swift was built
he worshiped there the while
Until the call came to return,
King Offa’s death was sure,
The pagan Danes were close at hand,
the word went out for war

Voice 2.  Reflection
Lord, guided by you, and our blessed Fremund, you brought us here to worship you in quietness and solitude.  We learned to love the beauty of this island, hanging here between sea and heaven.  The cry of the gulls echoes our songs of praise, the gentle puffins murmur soft encouragement as we work in our simple fields, the ever-changing song of the sea fills our hearts with awe, and fear, as we pray for your blessing on our endeavours, oh Lord of all.
We thought our lives were settled, that we would live out our lives in praise to you, untroubled by the world’s strife.  But now Fremund must leave us, must face the heathen foes in Mercia, whence we came.  Bring him safely back to us, we pray, or if it be your will, take him victorious to live with you in heaven.

Voice 3.
God be in my head, and in my understanding;
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mind end, and at my departing.

Part 2 Continuity – battle fields and landscapes

From far and near the troops draw in
And armies muster close.
Through Mercia war’s clamour goes
And Fremund leads the host.
With sweeping swords and bent back bows
The brothers maim and kill
And victory’s brought to Fremund’s Field
The violence sickens him still.

Now all is quiet the fighting’s done
The bodies pile up high.
The ragged field now runs with blood.
The smoke it stains the sky.
His kingly course it now seems set
The crown lies in his hand.
But Fremund does not choose to rule
It’s back to God’s island.

Voice 4.  Reflection
The battle is over – the dead lie unnumbered, chief amongst them our king, Offa.  His son, Fremund, offers prayers for the dead.  To him now falls the crown, but he will have none of it.  His life is dedicated to the Lord, there lies his path, he will return to his holy chapel on Lundy.
But what of us?  Do we count for nothing?
We fought, we died, to give him this victory.  What kind of man would turn his back on his people at such a troublous time as this?  God has need of him, he says, but what of our need?  Are we to be left leaderless now?  Can nothing change his mind?  Maybe God has need of him, but so do we.  As God reigns in heaven is it not right for Fremund to reign on earth?  We are but simple men, to us it is our homes, our families we fought for, as well as for God.  Who will solve this dilemma for us?

Voice 5.
Lord, stand with us at the barricades,
And help us, not to fight,
But to dismantle them.
Help us to open up the road to reconciliation.
To plant and water seeds of trust.
To reach out hands of love,
Take partners,
Dance forgiveness.

Part 3 Community – responsibilities to community, responsibilities to God

Now Oswy was a loyal man
A warrior good and wise.
It grieved him sore to see the crown
Rejected and despised.
In angry rage his bloodied sword
He sweeps in for the kill
And Fremund’s head is clean removed
But see he’s standing still.

The brothers watch all hushed in awe
As Fremund reaches down
And carefully and tenderly
He feels the broken ground.
He finds his battered bleeding head
And takes it in his arms,
He nurses and cradles it
To keep it from all harm.

We commit ourselves

All.    To look beyond the things that divide us in the world to our unity in the

We commit ourselves

All.    To look beyond the deceptions and illusions of the world to the Way, the Truth and the Life of the Spirit.

    God is love,
    Loving each of us with unconditional love,
    May we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength,

All.    And our neighbour as ourself.

    We are a one-world family.
    May we revere our world, and all that is in it,
    Seeking true justice and peace,

All.    As we show compassion and care to all.

    So shall we be free:

All.    To play the Play of God,
    And dance the Dance of God,

    In morning and evening;
    In ebb and flow of life,

All    And to know that all is well,
    And all manner of things shall be well,
    And that in the Divine Life
    We have eternal life.

Part 4 Pilgrimage

Then trailed by a growing band
He now begins to walk,
Across a sad and sorry land
His corpse is seen to stalk,
Until at Offchurch there he stops
And drops onto his knees,
A crystal spring now bubbles clear
Beneath the nodding trees

So Fremund in one final act
Will wash his bloodied head,
Then lays him down all on the ground
And offers himself to death
And Oswy stricken down with guilt
He bows his head to pray.
He  begs that will be forgiven
Before the end of day.

“So all you brothers close about
Now let our work begin           
On Fremund’s final resting place
To save our souls from sin,
For Fremund was King Offa’s son
A Christian born was he,
He left behind his royal home
To sail across the sea.

Voice 6 – Reflection.

A Pilgrim, God’s wandered, peregrinate pro Christi…  Our lives are a pilgrimage, we follow a steep and rocky path, near impassable in places, but we travel onwards for we know this path leads to God.
Fremund trod this path, sometimes with companions, sometimes alone.  His path was not an easy one, his life, so full of promise as a servant of the Lord, took him along a way he did not wish to tread, to battle, to bitter conflict over his future path, to his death.
Each of us is a pilgrim.  Some take this name to themselves as they travel through the land visiting shrine after shrine, beseeching the saints contained therein to aid them in their journey.  For so many centuries men have begged the blessed saints to help them tread their path, fight their battles, be ever at their side.  For so many centuries women have brought their troubles, of health, family, fears for the future for themselves and those they love, laying these burdens gratefully by the shrines of your saints.
But the complications of life surround so many of us here, we could not be such pilgrims even if we wished it so.  We tread our own paths of the heart, asking only that our journey through life will make us fitter to stand with the company of saints before the throne of God.  If, in our passing we have helped others in ways small but heartfelt, we have done well in our journeying.  We seek the blessing of God and his saints, their help and guidance in all we do.  May our pilgrimage of life be an adventure into the heart of God’s love.

Voice 7
The Seekers by John Masefield
Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blessed abode,
But the hope of the City of God at the other end of the road.
Not for us are content, and quiet, and peace of mind,
For we go seeking a city that we shall never find.

There is no solace on earth for us – for such as we –
Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.
Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.

We seek the City of God, and the haunt where beauty dwells,
And we find the noisy mart and the sound of burial bells.
Never the golden city, where radiant people meet,
But the dolorous town where mourners are going about the street.

We travel the dusty road till the light of the day is dim,
And sunset shows us spires away on the world’s rim.
We travel from dawn to dusk, till the day is past  and by,
Seeking the Holy City beyond the rim of the sky.

Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blest abode,
But the hope of the city of God at the other end of the road.

Hymn.  He Who Would Valiant Be
He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound - his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.

Voice 8
Move our hearts with the calm, smooth flow of your grace.  Let the river of your love run through our souls.  May my soul be carried by the current of your love, towards the wide, infinite ocean of heaven.
Stretch out my heart with your strength, as you stretch out the sky above the earth.  Smooth out any wrinkles of hatred or resentment.  Enlarge my soul that it may know more fully your truth. Amen

Together we say the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, who art in Heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Closing reflection by the minister

All.    Deep peace of the running wave to you.
    Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
    Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
    Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
    Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.  Amen.

    The blessing of God be upon you as you go out into the world.
    The light of Christ shine from within you,
    And the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit guide and protect you,
    Now and forever.  Amen.

May we abide in the Light, that we may be lights in the world, held together in love.  Amen.

As you leave, the musicians will play.  You are invited to take a piece of willow, and add it to the willow sculpture around the old Font.

Tea and biscuits will be served following the service. 

St. Fremund’s Feast

2013 The band playing in church.