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Faricius (d.1117)
Abbot of Abingdon
Died: 23rd February 1117 at Abingdon, Berkshire

Faricius, a native of Arezzo in Tuscany, a skilful physician and a man of letters, was in England by 1078, when he witnessed the translation of the relics of St. Aldhelm. He was cellarer of Malmesbury Abbey when, in 1100, he was elected Abbot of Abingdon in Berkshire. He owed his election to a vision. The abbey of Abingdon had fallen into decay. Cloister, dormitory and chapter-house were in ruins, the brethren scarcely had bread to eat and the abbacy was vacant. A young monk had a vision of the Virgin, who bade him tell the prior and convent to elect her chaplain, the cellarer of Malmesbury, as their abbot. They applied to King Henry I and received license to elect Faricius, who was either already, or soon afterwards, the King's physician. He was consecrated on 1st November by Robert, Bishop of Lincoln.

The next year, Faricius was received, with much rejoicing, by the brethren of his new house. It is said that as Archbishop Anselm was then in exile and Faricius laid his pastoral staff on the high altar until the former’s return. Anselm, however, returned to England on 23rd September 1102 and did not leave it again until 1103, so the story no doubt belongs to the period of the Archbishop's second absence and shows that Faricius belonged to the strict ecclesiastical party.

He was learned and industrious, courteous in manners and eloquent, though his foreign tongue was some disadvantage to him. Moreover, he was a man of quick understanding and great ability and seems, in all points, to have been a good specimen of the scientific churchman of southern Europe. The restoration of the conventual buildings at the Abbey was his first care and he, further, rebuilt a large part of the church, probably the whole of the eastern end, the transepts and the central tower, placing his new building to the south of St. Aethelwold's Saxon Church. He enriched the abbey by obtaining grants of land and by costly gifts of various kinds, caused several books, both of divinity and medicine, to be copied for the library, was liberal and kind to the monks and raised their number from twenty-eight to eighty.

The payments he received for his work as a physician enabled him to do all this, for many of the chief persons in the kingdom sought his advice. When Queen Matilda was pregnant with her first child, her husband, king Henry I, sent her to stay at the Royal Palace at Sutton Courtenay, in the neighbourhood of Abingdon, and placed her under the care of Faricius and another Italian physician named Grimbald or Grimaldi, his intimate friend. The child did not survive, but the Queen appears to have stayed on at the palace for almost a year, at the end of which her daughter was born. The abbot interested the queen in the rebuilding of the abbey church and obtained, through her intercession, a grant, from the King, of the island of Andresey and all the buildings upon it. Another grant, which he received for attending Geoffrey son of Aubrey de Vere, was the parish church of Kensington along with certain lands there.

When, after the Archiepiscopal See of Canterbury had remained vacant for five years, King Henry held a council at Windsor, on 26th April 1114, in order to fix on a successor to Anselm. He was anxious to procure the election of Faricius, in whom he placed entire confidence, and the monks of Christ Church, who were summoned to the council, were highly pleased at the prospect. The sufragan bishops, however, opposed the scheme, for they were afraid that Faricius, as an Italian and a strict churchman, would involve the church in fresh disputes. This feeling was not expressed openly, but the Bishops of Lincoln and Salisbury alleged that it would be unseemly for a physician who attended women to be made archbishop. The King gave up the point and Ralph, Bishop of Rochester, was elected in his place. The historian of Abingdon seems to have been mistaken in asserting that Faricius was elected to the Archbishopric. Faricius died at Abingdon on 23rd February 1117. On the 2nd of that month, it is said, he fell sick after eating some food prepared by one of the brethren and, at once, declared that he would die.

He wrote a ‘Life of St. Aldhelm,’ which is criticised by William of Malmesbury in his own ‘Life’ of the saint. He is also said to have written letters and a work proving that infants dying without baptism cannot be saved. His anniversary was kept with much solemnity at Abingdon and, in one place, in the ‘De Obedientiariis Abbendoniae,’ he is styled saint.

Edited from Leslie Stephen's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1898).


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