The Legend of St Osyth, Buckinghamshire
Proper saints have the grace, as it were, to die a decent martyr’s death, and put on a bit of a show. So it was with St Osyth, born in Quarrendon - then near now in Aylesbury - into the royal family of Mercia in the 7th century. Though a granddaughter of King Penda, a pagan, she was sent to a convent in Warwickshire to be educated, an experience that left Osyth determined to become a nun. Duty, or forceful persuasion by her father Frithwald, saw her married nevertheless to King Sighere of Essex, with whom she had a child.
But her religious ambition remained, and she eventually established a nunnery in Essex. She is said to have been slaughtered by marauding Vikings who, careless of the niceties, hacked off her head.
As her convent was in Essex it seems likely she met her end there, but her legend has her brutal murder happening in the place where she was born, Quarrendon. And the story goes that after the Vikings decapitated her, Osyth leant down, picked up her bloody head, and to the astonishment of her Viking assassins carried it to the doors of a nearby religious foundation, where she finally expired. A holy well is supposed to have begun flowing pure water at the moment and site of her death: several places around Aylesbury dispute this highly doubtful prize, including Quarrendon itself on the town’s northwest edge, and the village of Bierton a few miles northeast.
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