A Blog about: Jenny's 60th Birthday Charity Cycle

Archive for the ‘About the Cycle’ Category

Historical connections

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.

 This is a mediaeval drawing of St Cuthman with his cart.

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.
I was amazed to discover Brigit stories associated with my childhood home after setting up a project called Brigit’s Garden in Ireland!
The connection was surely through the Irish monastery at Bosham – Dicul and his brothers must have brought many Irish stories with them, including stories of St Brigit.
(This photo is the view up to Bosham from Cobnor, the church spire just visible, and Brent geese in the foreground)
A few weeks ago, another coincidence emerged. Richard Evans, who lives on the site where Dicul probably set up his monastery at Bosham, found a second reference to Dicul in Bede’s writing. If it is the same Dicul, it appears he first went to East Anglia with a monk called St Fursey where they set up a monastery, and later came to Bosham after St Fursey went on to France. And St Fursey same from Inchiquinn, a small island in Lough Corrib just a few miles from my home and Brigit’s Garden!
This photo looks West across Lough Corrib and Inchiquinn island to the hills of Connemara. Brigit’s Garden is located a few miles to the left on the far side of the Lough.  The area is extraordinarily rich in early and mediaeval Christian sites, with 31  around Lough Corrib and another 25 along the coastline and islands of Connemara. (Anthony Previté’s has written great guidebooks to each area)
These are the two landscapes that I treasure and which I will connect through my cycle ride, following in the steps of Dicul and his monks.