Although little is known of his early life, Birinus was a 7th century Italian monk, consecrated bishop in Milan by Archbishop Asterius. It seems that Birinus was a man who felt compelled to proclaim the good news of God, but for him he felt this in a particular way – he wanted to make his mark!
We are told that in 634, this led to Pope Honorius 1 to choose Birinus to 'sow the seeds of our Holy Faith in the distant lands beyond the Kingdom of the English, where no other had been before him'.
When he landed on the south coast, it seems that his original plan had been to penetrate well into the interior of the country, but we also know from Bede's Ecclesiastical History that 'on arriving in Britain and first coming to the West Saxons, where he found all to be confirmed pagans, he thought it more useful to preach the Word there, rather than to go farther looking for people to whom he could preach.'
In AD635 King Oswold of Northumbria, who had already been converted to Christianity by Celtic Christians in Iona, Scotland, wanted to marry the daughter of King Cynegils of the West Saxons,and went to Dorchester to visit Cynegils. There he found Cynegils receiving instruction in the Christian faith from Birinus. The outcome was that Birinus baptised Cynegils – probably in the nearby River Thame – with Oswold standing as Godfather.
The two Kings then granted land to Birinus in Dorchester for the establishment of his episcopal see and cathedral church. Birinus thus became the first Bishop of the West Saxons