Steyning in West Sussex is quite unique in having its most famous Saxon son’s legends thrive despite Norman attempts to obliterate his memory. Such was, and indeed is, St Cuthman’s popularity that he has been accredited with several “miraculous” legends, usually incurring the wrath of god on his fellow men and even The Devil!
The name Steyning is derived from the Saxon word Stenningas, which loosely translates as “The People of the Stone(s)” or “Village In The Stony Ground” or again as “The Stone Crossing of the Stream”. Whichever is the true meaning, there is one carved stone in the porch of St. Andrew’s Church (formerly St. Cuthman’s). There is another stone, originally a Saxon grave slab in the church porch which is rumoured to be the gravestone of Alfred the Great’s father, Ethelwulf of Wessex, who was buried in the churchyard before his remains were transferred to a royal burial in Winchester. The area was also a direct route to the sea (long since reclaimed) and there existed a port which was named for St. Cuthman, so any tributary stream would have a ford at its shallowest point. The church was rededicated to St. Andrew after the Norman conquest, to rid the area of a local hero (and Saxon to boot) but failed to eradicate his memory.
The story of St. Cuthman is told in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists (1658), from an anonymous source. Cuthman mas a shepherd, who after his father died, had to look after his crippled mother. They fell on hard times, and Cuthman was forced to beg from door to door. He set out from his home, perhaps at Chidham near Bosham, going eastwards, pushing his mother in a one-wheeled cart or wheelbarrow which he made. A rope from the handles over his shoulders took part of the weight. The rope broke. and he improvised a new one from withies. Some haymakers who were watching laughed at him, but a heavy rainstorm ruined their hay and taught them a lesson.
Cuthman decided that when the makeshift rope of withies gave way he would take it as a sign from God that he should stop at that place and build a church. It happened at the place we call Steyning His biographer gives us his prayer: “Father Almighty, you have brought my wanderings to an end; now enable me to begin this work. For who am I, Lord, that I should build a house to name? If I rely on myself, it will be of no avail, but it is you who will assist me. You have given me the desire to be a builder; make up for my lack of skill, and bring the work of building this holy house to its completion.” After building a hut to accommodate his mother and himself, he set to work to build the church. The local people helped him, and those who did not found themselves in trouble. As the church neared completion, Cuthman had difficulty with a roof-beam. A stranger showed him how to fix it. When Cuthman asked his name, he replied “I am he in whose name you are building this church.”
We can picture Cuthman living in Steyning, continuing his work as shepherd and builder, but above all (as his biographer attests) as a man of prayer. He had accomplished his great work for God; the church he built would stand as his memorial.
Cuthman was venerated as a saint before the Norman Conquest. After the conquest his relics were transferred to Fécamp, since the Steyning church had been given to the Abbey there. In charters of William the Conqueror Steyning is sometimes called “St. Cuthman’s Port” or “St. Cuthman’s Parish”. In “lives” which were preserved at Fécamp it is said that he was born about 681 A.D., probably at Chidham, near Bosham, which is about 25 miles from Steyning. If this is so, his parents would have heard the preaching of St Wilfrid, the Apostle of Sussex (680-685), and no doubt became Christian. Did Wilfrid himself baptise the child Cuthman? Some authorities give him a date later than this, but at least it can be said that Cuthman’s church was in existence in 857, for we know that King Ethelwulf was buried there in that year.
In Norman times Steyning was a minster church, administered by a college of secular canons. This college was dissolved in 1260 and vicars were appointed by the Abbey of Fécamp. It was at this time that the church was re-dedicated in honour of St. Andrew, which is its dedication today.
However, Cuthman’s name and exploits were not forgotten. There is a German engraving of him with his “cart” dated about 1450 and a choir seat carving at Ripon Cathedral dating from a few decades later. And at Chidham, where he was born, there was a Guild of St Cuthman, which was subject to a tax in 1522 under Henry VIII. Finally in 1658 the Bollandists transcribed and printed his Life, giving his feast day as February 8th. Visitors to Steyning to this day will see the representation of “The Boy with a Cart” on the town sign, and Christopher Fry’s play of that name continues to keep his memory green.
INTROIT Psalm 54. 2, 3
Who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest? Lo, I have gone far off, flying away, and I abode in the wilderness, for I have seen iniquity and contradiction in the city. Ps. 54 Hear, O God, my prayer and despise not my supplication: be attentive to me and hear me. Glory be. Who will give me…
O Lord, saviour and keeper of those who seek Thee, who didst grant Blessed Cuthman, undefiled, to renounce this world and to flee to the protection of thy wings; grant by his intercession that thy people may have grace to flee from the contagion of the evil one, and to follow thee alone with a pure heart and mind. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God; throughout all ages, world without end. R. Amen
EPISTLE Philippians 3:8-14
Lesson from the Epistle of Blessed Paul the Apostle to the Philippians. Brethren: Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ: And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God, justice in faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead. Not as though I has already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may by any means apprehend, wherein I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended. But one thing I do: forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.
GRADUAL Psalm 83.11 & Ps 15.5-6
I have chosen to be an abject in the house of my God, rather than to dwell in the tabernacles of sinners. V. And hast set him over the works of Thy hands, O Lord. Alleluia, alleluia. V. And I will rejoice under the covert of thy wings: My soul hath stuck close to thee: thy right hand hath received me. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Mark 10: 28-30
At that time; Peter began to say unto him: Behold, we have left all things, and have
followed thee. Jesus answering, said: Amen I say to you, there is no man who hath left house or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, Who shall not receive an hundred times as much, now in this time; houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions: and in the world to come life everlasting.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Philippenses 3.14-15
Forgetting the things that are behind, and stretching forth myself to those that are before, I press towards the mark, to the prize of the supernal vocation of God in Christ Jesus.
Take from us, O Lord, all worldly desires, that we might worthily serve at thy altar; and grant us to follow the example of him, in whose honour we offer this immaculate sacrifice to thy divine majesty. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God; throughout all ages, world without end. R. Amen
PREFACE of the Common
It it truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the Powers stand in awe. The heavens and the heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with them, we entreat Thee, that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted, while we say in lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Psalm 30.20-21
How great are the multitude of thy mercies, O Lord, which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee! Thou wilt hide them in the hiding place of thy presence; thou shalt protect them in thy tabernacle.
We beseech thee O Lord by the virtue of this Sacrament, to grant us the grace to follow the example of Blessed Cuthman in thy service: and may that good work which thou hast begun in us, be brought to perfection in the day of Christ Jesus Our Lord, who liveth & reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen