lundi 8 février 2016

Saint CUTHMAN de STEYNING, ermite et confesseur

Saint Cuthman

vénéré dans le Sussex (date ?)

(+v. 889? - VIIIe ou IXe siècle suivant les sources) 

Originaire d'une famille chrétienne anglo-saxonne, dans le Sussex, il pourvut à la subsistance familiale après la mort de son père, parfois même en mendiant, ce qu'il faisait avec beaucoup d'humilité et de douceur. Puis il bâtit une petite cabane pour lui et sa mère fort âgée afin de suivre ce commandement: 'Tu honoreras ton père et ta mère longuement'. Il mourut pauvre berger. Les habitants du lieu le vénéraient comme un saint.

Ses reliques sont actuellement à Fécamp.

A lire (en anglais): St Cuthman of Steyning - site du diocèse d'Arundel et Brighton.

Cuthman of Steyning, Hermit (AC)

(also known as Cuthmann)

9th century. Among the ancient Anglo-Saxon saints was Cuthman, a native of Devon or Cornwall (judging by his name; some ancient documents seem to indicate that he was possibly born at Chidham near Bosham, c. 681), who spent his youth as a shepherd on the moors. A grey and weather-beaten stone high among the heather is said to mark the spot where he used to sit, and around which he drew a wide circle in the gorse, outside which his sheep were not allowed to wander. When his father died and his mother was left poor, Cuthman proved himself a good son and worked hard for their joint livelihood, but when she fell sick he was unable to leave her and they became destitute.

Cuthman, at his wit's end, made a wooden two-wheeled barrow in which he laid his mother, and with its two handles supported by a rope round his neck, begged from door to door. But the dream of his life was to build a church, and though he had no idea how this could be done, he resolved to leave Cornwall with its bleak and windswept moors and travel eastward.

Putting his mother in the barrow along with their few belongings, he pushed it day after day across the breadth of England until he came to Steyning in West Sussex. There the rope which held the barrow broke, and this he took for a sign that it was here where he must settle. He prayed by the roadside: "O Almighty Father, who has brought my journey to an end, You know how poor I am, and a laborer from my youth, and of myself I can do nothing unless You succor me."

Here by the River Adur, in a lonely and quiet spot among the Downs, he built a hut to shelter his mother, and then measured out the ground on which to build his church. The local people were kind to him; they watched him dig the foundations single-handedly, cut the timber and build the walls, and they provided two oxen to help him. One day, however the oxen strayed and were carried off by two youths who refused to return them, whereupon Cuthman was angry. "I need them not," he said, "to do my own work but to labor for God." and he yoked the two youths themselves to his cart to draw it. "It must be moved," he said, "and you must move it."

So Cuthman built a church and preached and stirred up the people. And there where he worked, he died, and was buried beside the river, and they called the place Saint Cuthman's Port, for the river in those days was navigable.

Cuthman's name occurs in several early medieval calendars and in the old Missal that was used by the English Saxons before the Norman conquest (kept in the monastery of Jumièges, in which a proper mass is assigned for his feast), a German martyrology clearly indicates a pre-Conquest cultus, and the church at Steyning seems to have been dedicated to him in the past. Saint Edward the Confessor gave the Steyning church to Fécamp, which monastery built a cell of monks on the site of his old wooden church and built a new one dedicated to his memory, although Cuthman's relics were translated to Fécamp. The information on Cuthman preserved there may contain some genuine material. The memory of this once forgotten saint was revived by Christopher Fry in his one-act play The boy with a cart (1939) (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Farmer, Gill, Husenbeth).

In art, Saint Cuthman is always shown among sheep because he was a shepherd of Steyning (Roeder). He feast is kept at most Benedictine monasteries in Normandy (Husenbeth).


February 8

St. Cuthman, in England, Confessor

THE SPIRITUAL riches of divine grace were the happy portion of this saint, who seemed from his cradle formed to perfect virtue. His name demonstrates him to have been an English-Saxon, not of British extraction, either from Wales or Cornwall, as Bollandus conjectured. He was born in the southern parts of England, and, from the example of his pious parents, inherited the most perfect spirit of Christian piety. From his infancy he never once transgressed their orders, in the least article, and when sent by his father to keep his sheep, he never failed coming home exactly at the time appointed. This employment afforded him an opportunity of consecrating his affections to God, by the exercises of holy prayer, which only necessary occasions seemed to interrupt, and which he may be said to have always continued in spirit, according to that of the spouse in the Canticles, I “sleep, but my heart watcheth.” By the constant union of his soul with God, and application to the functions and exercises of the angels, the affections of his soul were rendered daily more and more pure, and his sentiments and whole conduct more heavenly and angelical. What gave his prayer this wonderful force in correcting and transforming his affections, was the perfect spirit of simplicity, disengagement from creatures, self-denial, meekness, humility, obedience, and piety, in which it was founded. We find so little change in our souls by our devotions, because we neglect the practice of self-denial and mortification, live wedded to the world, and slaves to our senses and to self-love, which is an insuperable obstacle to this principal effect of holy prayer. Cuthman, after the death of his father, employed his whole fortune and all that he gained by the labour of his hands, in supporting his decrepit mother: and afterwards was not ashamed to beg for her subsistence. To furnish her necessaries by the sweat of his brow, and by the charitable succours of others, he removed to several places; nor is it to be expressed what hardships and austerities he voluntarily and cheerfully suffered, which he embraced as part of his penance, increasing their severity in order more perfectly to die to himself and to his senses, and sanctifying them by the most perfect dispositions in which he bore them.

Finding, at a place called Steninges, a situation according to his desire, he built there a little cottage to be a shelter from the injuries of the air, in which, with his mother, he might devote himself to the divine service, without distraction. His hut was no sooner finished but he measured out the ground near it for the foundation of a church, which he dug with his own hands. The inhabitants, animated by his piety and zeal, contributed liberally to assist him in completing this work. The holy man worked himself all day, conversing at the same time in his heart with God, and employed a considerable part of the night in prayer. Here he said in his heart: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit, O Lord! this is the place of my rest for ever and ever, in which I will every day render to thee my vows.” His name was rendered famous by many miracles of which God was pleased to make him the instrument, both living and after his death. He flourished about the eighth century, and his relics were honoured at Steninges. This place Saint Edward the Confessor bestowed on the great abbey of Fecam in Normandy, which was enriched with a portion of his relics. This donation of Steninges, together with Rye, Berimunster, and other neighbouring places made to the abbey of Fecam, was confirmed to the same by William the Conqueror, and the two first Henries, whose charters are still kept among the archives of that house, and were shown me there. This parish and that of Rye, were of the exemption of Fecam, that is, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the diocesan, but to this abbey, as twenty-four parishes in Normandy are to this day: For in the enumeration of the parishes which belong to this exemption in the bulls of several popes, in which it is confirmed, Steninges and Rye are always mentioned with this additional clause, that those places are situated in England. 1 St. Cuthman was titular patron of Steninges or Estaninges, and is honoured to this day, on the 8th of February, in the great abbeys of Fecam, Jumieges, and others in Normandy: and his name occurs in the old Missal, used by the English Saxons, before the Norman conquest, kept in the monastery of Jumieges, in which a proper mass is assigned for his feast on the 8th of February. In the account of the principal shrines of relics of saints, honoured anciently in England, published by the most learned Dr. Hickes, mention is made of St. Cuthman’s, as follows: “At Steninge, on the river Bramber, among the South-Saxons, rest St. Cuthman.” See Narratio de Sanctis qui in Anglia quiescunt, published by Hickes, in his Thesaurus Linguarum veterum Septentr, t. 1. in Dissert. Epistol. p. 121. See also two lives of St. Cuthman, in Bollandus, t. 2. Feb. p. 197. and the more accurate lessons for his festival in the Breviary of Fecam. He is honoured in most of the Benedictin abbeys in Normandy.

Note 1. Bollandus had not seen these charters and bulls, or he could not have supposed Steninges to be situated in Normandy, and St. Cuthman to have died in that province. Dom Le Noir, a learned Benedictin monk of the congregation of St. Maur, and library-keeper at Fecam, who is employed in compiling a history of Normandy, gives me the following information by a letter from Fecam: “On tient ici à Fécam par une espéce de tradition que Hastings, port d’Angleterre, sur la Manche, dans le comté de Sussex, et dans le voisinage de Rye, est le Staninges de l’Abbaye de Fécam. Si le nom est un peu différent aujourd hui, on voit des noms des lieux qui ont souffert des plus grandes altérations.” This pretended tradition is an evident mistake. Hastings was a famous sea-port under the same name, in the ninth century, and Stening is, at this day, a borough in Sussex, situated under the ruins of Bramber Castle, not far from the river, which was formerly navigable so high, though at present even Shoreham at its mouth has no harbour, the sea having made frequent great changes on this coast, especially in the twelfth century. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume II: February. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.


On this day: St. Cuthman of Steyning

On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Cuthman, a Saxon shepherd famous for pulling his mother in a cart from Chidham in West Sussex to Steyning in West Sussex, a distance of nearly thirty miles.

When his father died, around the turn of the eighth century, Cuthman was reduced to begging. He decided to travel east, toward the rising sun. Because his mother was unable to walk, Cuthman built a cart in which to wheel her.

At one point on their journey, the rope by which Cuthman pulled the cart broke, and he devised a new one from withies. Mowers observed this and laughed at the makeshift rope. While they mocked him, it began to rain, and the downpour destroyed their crop. After that, it rained on that meadow every year during the hay harvest.

Cuthman realized he and his mother were under divine protection. He promised to continue wheeling the old lady along until the rope of withies broke. At that place, he would build a church.

The brittle rope broke at Steyning. Cuthman built a hut in which he and his mother could live, and then he set to work building a church. Construction went well with the aid of local people and with a pair of oxen given to Cuthman. But then two men stole the oxen and fenced them in their mother's yard. Cuthman yoked the two men to the cart and made them pull it. When their mother cursed the day of Cuthman's birth, a wind arose that blew her up into the air and then dropped her to the earth where she was swallowed up.

Another time, the main roof beam of the church fell, making it impossible for Cuthman and his workman to complete construction. While they were trying to decide how to solve the problem, a stranger appeared who told them exactly what to do. They did as he said, and the church was finished. Cuthman asked, "Who are you?" The stranger replied, "I am the one in whose name thou buildest this temple."

Or, as the playwright Christopher Fry had him say in The Boy With a Cart, "I was a carpenter."

It was in a 1950 production of The Boy With a Cart, Cuthman, Saint of Sussex: A Play, directed by John Gielgud, that Richard Burton played his first leading role.

"'It was a play with no set,' Gielgud recalled. 'Everything was constructed out of Burton's great talent for miming. He mimed building a cathedral, and it was spell-binding to watch him.'"

--from Richard Burton: Prince of Players, by Michael Munn, Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.

Click>here for a YouTube of Richard Burton reciting a few lines from the play, at 2:29.

The various symbols in the legends surrounding St. Cuthman make it clear that this was a time of transition from the old Saxon religion to the new Roman religion: Steyning (stone people); wheel (the turning seasons); forces of nature that take vengeance on those who cross Cuthman and Mother; the witch; the oxen (favorite sacrifices of Saxons to their gods); and the building of a church on a place of stones (where humans and oxen had been sacrificed).

Click here for a picture of a statue of St. Cuthman with his foot on a representation of an actual stone found at the site of the old church, perhaps used by the Saxons as an altar stone for sacrifices, perhaps incorporated by Cuthman into the church he built.


The story of St. Cuthman is told in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists (1658), from an anonymous source. Cuthman was 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.
Taken from The Diocesan Propers