The village Whitchurch Canonicorum in Dorset, mentioned in the will of King Alfred as Hwitn Cyrcian, presumably takes its name from St. Wite, and its church is dedicated in her honor (the Latin form "Candida" is not recorded before the sixteenth century). In the north transept of the church is her shrine. On a thirteenth century base with three openings there rests a fourteenth century coffin, covered by a slab of Purbec marble; the whole is plain and without inscription but has always been called locally, the Shrine of the Titular Saint. While repairs to the transept were being carried out in 1900 the coffin was opened at the end, and within, beside odd pieces of bone, teeth, wood and lead, was found a large leaden casket. On it, in twelfth-thirteenth raised letters, was the inscription Hic Reqesct Relique Sce Wite; inside was considerable number of bones, which the finders with commendable piety did not disturb. The coffin was cleaned out, all returned to its place, and the end sealed up.
Who was St. Wite, who (if the relics be really hers) shares with St. Edward the Confessor, the distinction of still resting in her shrine, undisturbed by the storms of the Protestant Reformation? It is not known, and there are no solid grounds for speculation. It is usually assumed that she was some West Saxon woman of whom all other records have perished. Another suggestion is that when in 919-920, some Bretons fled to England, bringing saints' relics with them, and King Athelstan gave the relics of some Breton saints to various churches in Wessex, he gave those of a certain saint Gwen (i.e. White) Teirbron to Whitchurch, which his grandfather Alfred had founded. Were this surmise true, it would raise a fresh problem: for who then was the saint in whose honor Alfred's church was founded? Or did he call it "White" for some other reason?
A third suggestion makes St. White a man (William of Worcester was confused by the saint's sex), and identifies him with St. Witta (Albinus), an Anglo-Saxon monk who died Bishop of Buraburg in Hesse c. 760. Local place names are invoked, connecting the neighboring St. Reyne's hill and farm with Witta's contemporary, Reginfred or Reinfred, Bishop of Cologne. This theory is based partly on the mistaken idea that Witta and Reginfred were martyred with St. Boniface. It is suggested that their bodies were brought home to Wessex for burial.
Though it had been used in support of the Witta theory (cf. Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, Vol. III, p. 391), it may not be without other significance that the patronal feast of St. Wite's Church was formally on or about Whitsunday. St. Candida's feast day is June 1.
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By Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.
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