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History of Sussex Saints

St Wilfrid of Selsey fisherman and exiled Bishop of Northumbria

Though St Wilfrid was the first saint to bring Christianity to the Manhood Peninsula in West Sussex, he was not new to Christianity. Originally from Northumbria and of noble birth, St Wilfrid had become a monk and later Bishop of Northumbria. He was exiled in around 681 by Edwin the king of Northumbria. Whilst in exile he travelled to Selsey (part of the Manhood Peninsula), which at that time was ruled by the South Saxon King Aethelwealh.  

Whilst in exile St Wilfrid met prince Caedwalla who himself had been exiled. Caedwalla asked St Wilfrid to be his spiritual father and promised to be his spiritual son in return for guidance. According to Saint Bede, who lived from 673 to 735, when St Wilfrid arrived in Selsey the area had suffered a drought for three years. As St Wilfrid begun baptising villagers the drought lifted. St Wilfrid was also credited with teaching local people to fish. Aethelwealh, who was the first Christian king of Sussex and ruled over the Manhood Peninsula, granted St Wilfrid land to build a monastery. Later, when the South Saxons were conquered by the Kingdom of Wessex, their ruler King Caedwalla, remembered the promise that he had made to St Wilfrid when they were both in exile and confirmed the land grant.

St Wilfrid of Selsey

St Cuthman of Chidham shepherd and Steyning church builder

St Cuthman, it is believed, was born around the time that St Wilfrid arrived in Selsey. He was a shepherd who lived near the Manhood Peninsula in Chidham (Bosham). It is very likely that St Cuthman and his parents were baptised by St Wilfrid. When St Cuthman’s mother became paralysed after his father’s death he built a wheeled cart for her, and pulled it by rope, so that he could be care for her. When he and his mother became impoverished, they set off walking towards the sun St Chuthman vowing that he would build a church when they could travel no further. After the cart rope broke St Cuthmann used withies to holster the cart to his shoulders. When the rope broke irreparably at Steyning St Cuthmann built a hut to live in with his mother and then set about constructing, what is now known as, St Andrew’s church.

St Cuthman of Chidham

St Richard of Chichester patron saint of Sussex

St Richard was born in 1197 in Burford near Droitwich, though noble sadly he and his brother were orphaned at an early age. Feudal death duties pushed the surviving siblings into poverty. When Richard’s brother came of age, Richard worked for him but chose to pursue an academic career rather than marry and manage his inherited estate.

Richard was educated at Oxford, returning from travels in Paris and Bologna to take up the position of chancellor at Oxford University. Whilst at Oxford University Richard became a vegetarian and lived a very simple, frugal life.

By 1235 Edmund of Abingdon, a former tutor of St Richard’s, had become the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both shared ideals of papal supremacy and clerical reform. Edmund appointed Richard chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury. Richard performed this role twice, the second time under Boniface of Savoy following Edmund’s exile and subsequent death.

In 1244 Richard was elected Bishop of Chichester, though the appointment was opposed by Henry III. However, Archbishop Boniface and Richard appealed to pope Innocent IV, who confirmed Richard’s appointment and consecrated him bishop in 1245. Richard returned to Chichester but only had his see’s* property restored to him by Henry III in 1247, after pope Innocent IV threatened the English king with excommunication. In the meantime, Henry III forbade anyone from feeding or housing Richard. He stayed with a friend Simon in Tarring. Simon grew figs, which we understand Richard enjoyed, St Richard is often depicted by a fig tree, or eating figs. Richard disliked shows of wealth, loan sharks and corruption. He liked clergy to say mass clearly so that the congregation could hear what was being said. He created statutes to reform the behaviour of clergy and the order in which mass was said.

St Richard died in 1253 after dedicating St Edmund’s chapel in Dover. His body was buried in the north nave at Chichester cathedral and later transferred to a new shrine in 1276.

*The images used on this page are taken from the Sussex saints tapestry that hangs in St James church. The tapestry was designed by Yvonne Hudson and worked on by local craftspeople. It was dedicated to St James church on 28 October 1984. Photographs by Sophie and Grace Relf.

St Richard of Chichester

Our Benefice churches are open daily during daylight hours, as is Chichester cathedral.

Please do come and visit.

Itchenor, St Nicholas
St Nicholas Church, Itchenor Road, Chichester PO20 7AD.

Birdham, St James
St James Church, Church Lane, Birdham, PO20 7HG

West Wittering, St Peter & St Paul
St Peter & St Paul Church, Pound Road, West Wittering, PO20 8AJ

*Holy Sees – the government of the Roman Catholic Church led by the pope as the bishop of Rome. Also written as see’s describes church property.

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