Here is the story of the strange coincidence of Irish connections with my childhood home in Sussex.
I grew up on Cobnor Farm, overlooking Chichester Harbour, and my parents told me the story of St Cuthman. He was a 7th Century Saint who was said to have grown up at Cobnor and tended his sheep in Cullimer’s (Cuthman’s) field, which was one of my Dad’s fields. Cuthman was famous for taking his ailing mother in a wheelbarrow or hand-cart and wheeling her Eastwards across the South Downs to Steyning where he founded a Church.
Many years later when I moved to Ireland my mother drew my attention to another aspect of local history recorded by the Venerable Bede in the 7th Century, the existence of a small Irish monastery in the village of Bosham just across the creek from our farm. According to Bede, an Irish monk called Dicul and five or six brothers ‘served the Lord in poverty and humility’ but none of the locals cared much about their preaching.
Later still, after I had decided to set up Brigit’s Garden, my sister sent me a copy of a paper by John Blair, a Professor of Mediaeval History at Oxford, titled ‘St Cuthman, Steyning and Bosham’ . He analysed the stories in the Life of St Cuthman and found that they were full of ‘strikingly Celtic elements’ and were entirely Irish in character. Moreover, there are a number of clear similarities with stories in the Life of St Brigit. Brigit was Ireland’s most important early female Saint, but she was also the Goddess of the land in pre-Christian Ireland, and many of the old stories and symbols of Brigit were incorporated into the Christian tradition.
- St Cuthman and St Brigit both tended sheep in childhood, and magically prevented them from straying
- Both miraculously saved oxen from thieves
- St Brigit saved a field of hay by sending away a storm, St Cuthman punishes farmers who laugh at him by causing a storm to ruin their hay
- St Brigit goes into her church and hangs her coat on a sunbeam, and while building his church at Steyning St Cuthman hangs his gloves on a sunbeam
- Both Saints have special stones they were supposed to have sat on
- St Brigit’s feast day is 1st February, the old Celtic Spring festival, St Cuthman’s is exactly a week later on 8th February.