It is said that Cuthman was born about 681 A.D., probably at Chidham.
Diana Beale tells me St Cuthman actually set off from Cullimers Field at Cobnor, by the pond, with his mother in the wheelbarrow, to found Steyning Church (about 25 miles away). The name “Cullimers” is derived from Cuthman.
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.
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.”
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. Cuthman was venerated as a saint before the Norman Conquest, and 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.
Cuthman of Steyning, Hermit (2)
(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).