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Saint Cuthman of Steyning

Saint Cuthman of Steyning 

Commemorated: February 8/21

St Cuthman of Steyning, one of the most venerated saints in southern England, lived in the late 7th to mid-8th century. He is best remembered in the small town of Steyning in West Sussex, just to the north of the English Channel. Sussex people have for many centuries venerated him for his meekness, humility, love, compassion, closeness to the people and many miracles.

St Cuthman was born in Chidham, now a small Sussex village surrounded by an area of outstanding natural beauty. Sussex was the last early English kingdom to embrace Christianity. A great missionary of that era, St Wilfrid, preached in Sussex, And it was precisely Wilfrid who converted St Cuthman’s parents to Christianity and then baptised them together with their little son.

From childhood the future saint revered his parents, obeyed them in everything and devoted much time to prayer; Cuthman worked very hard to help his parents  and tended sheep. Cuthman’s father died when he was very young and soon after that his mother was paralysed. Cuthman took care of her until her death. When Cuthman and his mother grew so poor that they had nothing to eat, they had to start begging, going from cottage to cottage of God-loving people. The saint made a hand-barrow for his mother and carried her in it. He never grumbled at his destiny but always sincerely thanked the Lord for everything and sought only to do His will. Living this simple life, full of hardships, Cuthman offered up his fervent prayers to the Creator day and night. With time, Cuthman and his mother decided to leave their home. One morning, at dawn, they set out, heading eastwards. As usual he pushed his mother in the cart, which he had tied up with a rope. He decided that as soon as the rope had frayed through, he would take it as a sign of God and stop there to build a church. The rope frayed through at a place called Steyning - now a quiet, charming, typical English little town. Cuthman stopped there and prayed to God: "Lord Almighty! You has put an end to my wanderings. Help me to start my work. For, who I am, O Lord, to build a holy church in honour of Your Name? Only on your help, O Lord, is my hope!"

First he built a small hut for himself and his mother. Local people began to help the saint build the church. But some of them did not wish to help the saint and began to laugh at him. They were suddenly caught out by Divine retribution: extremely heavy rain began to fall and all their hay was spoiled (and it rains very hard in the same field every year on that same day - the Lord reminds the people in this way that our duty is to help our neighbours). Soon the little church was nearly complete, only the roof beam had to be added; but Cuthman did not know how to finish it. And a stranger appeared and showed him how to finish the roof. Cuthman thanked the man, asked him his name and the latter answered: "I am the one in whose honour you are building this church." Cuthman realised that it was the Lord Himself that had helped him. The saint lived as a hermit in Steyning until his death. After the repose of his mother he spent his days and nights praying in his small church for the glory of the Lord. Often he went out to preach the Word of God to the residents of neighbouring settlements, where many miracles of healing took place due to his prayers. The whole local population came to believe in Christ and began to live a devout life. The people loved Cuthman for his kindness, simple life, and sincere faith. And Cuthman loved everyone as well.

The enemy of mankind was so irritated with St Cuthman through whose labours many people became Christians, that he plotted to kill the Christians of Sussex. One night the devil began to dig a tunnel under the ground near the hill fort called Chanctonbury Ring, intending to dig a channel as far as the sea and so drown all Sussex inhabitants. But the Lord revealed Satan’s cunning plot to Cuthman at night. The saint lit a candle and prayed for the devil to be banished. Through his prayer the candle began to burn so strongly that it seemed to turn into a pillar of light; the evil one was at once weakened, exhausted by the prayer of the saint and, exposed, moved away, unable to complete his plot. In that region the hills have survived to this day in memory of that event (this is the very earth that was thrown away by the satan from the tunnel) around Chanctonbury Ring and other sites; ravines and ditches associated with that tradition have survived as well - one of them is called "Satan’s ditch".

 Many other miracles are associated with St Cuthman. one day when he was still a herdsman, after praying he drew a circle around his sheep with his staff and went to find some food. Having returned, Cuthman noticed that no sheep had strayed beyond the invisible border; and he had lost no sheep since then! This miracle probably occurred in a field near Chidham, which over many years was known as St Cuthman’s Field or St Cuthman’s Valley. It was also said that a great rock in this field, on which the holy shepherd Cuthman used to sit and pray, had healing powers and provided cures from many diseases.

St Cuthman, who so much loved to pray in his church dedicated to the Lord, was venerated in Sussex and especially in Steyning. In some charters of king William the Conqueror, Steyning is mentioned as "the port of St Cuthman" or "the parish of St Cuthman".

It is amazing that the memory of this humble, quiet, rural saint has not been erased by centuries of Church reforms and that he is still loved!

The present Church of Sts Andrew and Cuthman  in Steyning, which stands on the site of his original church, dates back to the 13th century. Among other relics, there are two stained glass windows in the church, depicting scenes of Cuthman's life. A statue of the saint, produced by the sculptor Penny Reeve, stands in front of the church. St Cuthman, carrying his mother on his cart, is depicted on the emblem of the town of Steyning, to this day. At the birthplace of St Cuthman in Chidham there is the Church of St Mary the Virgin which contains stained glass windows depicting St Cuthman with his mother along with St Wilfrid. The meek hermit Cuthman is now venerated as the patron-saint of shepherds. There are a number of early saints of England whose example of affection, kindness, cordiality and simplicity is so important for all of us today. And, indeed, St Cuthman is one of them.

(c) Dmitry Lapa

 

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