Brighton, UK: Local artist Shirley Veater has completed writing (term in iconography for painting) wall icons on the walls of the “Chapel in the Inn” of the Brighton Oratory. The chapel is located in the cellar of the “Cherubs Kitchen” apostolate in the centre of Brighton & Hove, and daily Mass is offered and broadcast from there by Metropolitan Jerome OSJV, founder of the apostolate.
The icons represent three local Sussex saints, all three of whom are patrons of the Sussex Mission, Sts Wilfrid & Cuthman of the Brighton Oratory and St Lewinna of the Buxted Oratory.
St Cuthman of Steyning is depicted in two icons, the first showing him with his mother who was converted to the faith by St Wilfrid’s preaching and who brought her son, Cuthman to the bishop for baptism. According to legend, he was a shepherd who had to care for his paralysed mother after his father’s death. When they fell on hard times and were forced to beg from door to door, he built a one-wheeled cart or wheelbarrow (with a rope from the handles over his shoulders taking part of the weight) in which he moved her around with him. They set out east, towards the rising sun, from his home and, even though the rope broke, he improvised a new one from withies, deciding that when that rope broke he would accept it as a sign from God to stop at that place and build a church. The withy rope broke at the place now called Steyning, upon which (according to his biography) he prayed:
“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.”
The second icon continues the story; after building a hut to accommodate his mother and himself, he began work on the church (now St Andrew’s, Steyning, which in the 20th century instituted a Cuthmann chapel in his honour), with help from the locals (for those who did not help received divine punishment). As the church was nearing completion and Cuthmann was having difficulty with a roof-beam, a stranger showed him how to fix it. When Cuthmann asked his name, he replied:
“I am he in whose name you are building this church.”
The stranger is depicted by a gold hand lifting the other end of the roof-beam with St Cuthman on a ladder at the other end.
St Lewinna who was martyred in the late seventh century is also depicted, her arms in the “orans” prayer position. Once there no doubt existed an locally composed life of the saint but this has long ago vanished. Most of our knowledge now comes from an eleventh century account of the secret removal of her relics from a church near Seaford in 1058 to the monastery at Bergues (Berg) in Flanders by one of its monks.
The monk, named Balger, had intended to land at Dover but was blown off course and landed further west, most probably at Seaford. Inland he found a church dedicated to Saint Andrew where he was told the body of Saint Lewinna rested and where miracles happened “daily” because of her heavenly prayers. Balger seems to have stolen the relics by trickery and certainly from then onwards nearly every memory of the saint disappeared in England though she remained a much-loved intercessor in her new home. Bergues became part of France in the reign of Louis XVI and the monastery was destroyed in the French Revolution. As for the church of St Andrew where her relics had rested in Anglo-Saxon times, there is a lot of controversy concerning its identity, but the most likely candidate is Alfriston, an attractive village north of Seaford.
Sussex was the last of the seven Saxon kingdoms to become officially Christian and east Sussex remained pagan longest of all. St Wilfrid several times experienced their extreme ferocity. There is no early evidence to support the idea that St Lewinna was a Briton, as some accounts state. She was almost certainly an early South Saxon Christian martyred by her fellow countrymen who were still pagan. The date of her death was during the period when St Theodore of Tarsus was Archbishop of Canterbury, probably about AD 670. This was before St Wilfrid’s missionary labours, though there would have been isolated Christians in Sussex at this time. About three centuries after her martyrdom, her relics were solemnly translated to St Andrew’s church so the place of her sufferings must have been nearby.
St Wilfrid of York, also known as the Apostle to the South Saxons, converted the last of the Saxon kingdoms to the Christian faith in the seventh century whilst in exile from his See of York. Saint Wilfrid asked permission from the Christian King Aethelwealh to preach the Gospel to the South Saxons. The King and his wife Queen Eafe were already Catholics and they willingly gave permission for Saint Wilfrid to preach among their people. One icon shows St Wilfrid preaching and in the background the church which he established as his cathedral, believed to be St Peter’s at Selsey.
Saint Wilfrid travelled about Sussex for many years. One icon shows the saint demonstrating to local fishermen how to catch fish with a net as a opposed to using a spear. He taught the South Saxons to fish as many were dying from famine and once he had earned their trust they listened to the Gospel.
King Caedwalla of Wessex invaded the Kingom of Sussex and killed the Catholic King Aethelwealh. Now King of the South Saxons, this pagan King was approached by Saint Wilfird who preached the Gospel to him. The King and his wife were converted and allowed Saint Wilfrid to continue his missionary work. When King Ecgfrith died in battle against the Picts, Saint Wilfrid returned to Northumbria.
The Chapel in the Inn is open daily 12pm-6pm as an oasis of prayer, a sacred space in the heart of the city of Brighton & Hove, located under and access via The Regency Tavern, 32-34 Russell Square. Daily Mass is offered at 1230 Mon, Weds, Thurs and Fri and at 0930 Sun, Tues and Sat and can be viewed over the internet at Daily Mass Online.