Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cuthman Carried his Mum in a Wheelbarrow!

Let us all remember St Cuthman who is, quite possibly, the only person to have hailed his ailing mother around in a wheelbarrow. It is to be hoped that this rather unusual mode of transport was in better condition than the rusting wheelbarrow with the wonky wheel which sits at the end of our garden and has never been known to steer a straight (or smooth) path – otherwise the poor woman’s journey would have been most uncomfortable.

A statue of Cuthman created by Penny Reeve.
According to legend the saint, whose feast day is today, lived at the end of the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries, and was a shepherd who looked after his paralysed mother. Forced to beg for a living, he built a wheelbarrow so he could pull his mother around with him. When his towing rope broke he used willow branches instead, promised that when they snapped he would take it that God wanted him to stop at that point, and he would build a church.   

His journey came to an end at Steyning, in Sussex, so there he stopped and built a church (having first constructed a hit where he and his mother could live – he was obviously a practical sort of a chap). He had divine help with his place of worship, for as he struggled with a roofbeam a stranger gave assistance, telling Cuthman: “I am he in whose name you are building this church.” The church said to have been founded by him is now called St Andrew’s, but it includes a chapel has been dedicated to him.

A stained glass window in the chapel that bears his name shoes
St Cuthman pulling the wheelbarrow whicch bears his mother. 
The saint has also been connected with nearby Chanctonbury Ring. A local story claims the Devil wanted to dig a channel to let seawater flood Sussex and drown everyone, but Cuthmann discovered the plan by knocking a cockerel off its perch and holding a candle behind a sieve, so the Devil thought dawn had arrived, and ran away, leaving behind him the mounds of earth from his digging, which formed hills, including Chanctonbury Ring.

Another tale recounts how Cuthman once used his staff to draw a circle round his sheep while he went to get food, and when he returned the sheep had not moved a step outside this invisible boundary.

I had thought of celebrating his life by using our wheelbarrow to tidy the garden, but I spent much of the day helping to spring clean the Oxfam bookshop where I am a volunteer, and by the time I returned it was much too late to venture out into the garden, so I got my needles and wool out and have been sitting knitting, which strikes me as being a good way to mark the occasion. However, should you wish for a more festive activity I suppose you could feast upon roast lamb.

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