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Wilfrid, Selsey and Eddi’s
Service at Manhood End

If visitor’s have been interested by this pilgrimage
and the accounts of St Wilfrid’s time in the Meon
Valley, they may be interested in taking a drive to
Selsey to the south east of Chichester, to the vicinity of
Wilfrid’s cathedral and to where his mission to the Saxons

Wilfrid’s first experience of the South Saxons was not good and took place 20 years before his mission to the Meon Valley in 680. He was returning to England after his consecration as a bishop in Paris when he was shipwrecked and only narrowly escaped being put to death by the natives. However, he did return and this time he was welcomed by King Ecfrith at his palace in ‘Selesea’ - the island of the seal (you can see a seal at Wilfrid’s feet in the Chichester stained glass window). The king gave Wilfrid land by which he could support himself and his followers and on which he could build a cathedral. Local folklore has it that this cathedral is now under the sea and that its bells may be heard ringing in stormy seas. Others like to think that Wilfrid’s cathedral was on the site of the present parish church in Selsey.

It is known with greater certainty that Wilfrid, who was a Benedictine monk as well as a bishop, founded a monastery nearby at what is now Church Norton beside the estuary. According to local information, it seems that Wilfrid was afforded the title of Bishop of Selsey at this time. The research at West Meon refers to him as the Bishop of the South Saxons and the historian Bede, writing just after Wilfrid’s death uses only the title of Bishop of York. However we do know that once Wilfrid was able to return to York in 685 his monastery in Selsey continued to flourish under the abbots Headda and Dan and, in due course, under bishops of Selsey from 709. The See was moved to Chichester by the orders of William the Conqueror, and Stigand, the twenty-fourth bishop of Selsey, became the first bishop of Chichester in 1070.

P25 Ch Norton chapel

It is well worth making a visit to Church Norton to see St Wilfrid’s Chapel. The beautiful lonely seashore is evocative of the land Wilfrid encountered. The chapel itself is 13th century and contains a charming stained glass window depicting St Wilfrid as well as other memorabilia of the saint.

The chapel is, in fact, the chancel of the 13th century church. The nave was removed to Selsey to become the parish church at Selsey to meet the needs of the growing population who preferred not to travel two miles to church.
Under church law, a church may be moved but not its chancel - which explains this strange arrangement at Selsey. There is much of interest to be seen in St Wilfrid’s Chapel and at the Parish Church of St Peter and there is a very good guide book.

However, the pilgrim may be amused to finish his or her time travel with St Wilfrid by reading Kipling’s poem which tells the tale of a bleak mid-winter service conducted by Eddi - Eddius Stephanus, St Wilfrid’s chaplain and biographer. Manhood End is another local name for Church Norton.

Eddi’s Service (AD 687)  Rudyard Kipling

Eddi, priest of St. Wilfrid, in his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service for such as cared to attend.
But the Saxons were keeping Christmas, and the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service, though Eddi rang the bell.
“Wicked weather for walking,” said Eddi of Manhood End.
“But I must go on with the service for such as care to attend.”

The altar-lamps were lighted, - an old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited, and stared at the guttering flame.
The storm beat on at the windows, the water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock pushed in through the open door.
“How do I know what is greatest, How do I know what is least?
That is My Father’s business,” said Eddi, Wilfrid’s priest.

“But - three are gathered together - listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!” said Eddi of Manhood End.
And he told the Ox of a Manger and a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the Ass of a Rider, that rode to Jerusalem.

They steamed and dripped in the chancel, they listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops, Eddi preached them The Word,
Till the gale blew off on the marshes and the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the Ass together wheeled and clattered away.
And when the Saxons mocked him, said Eddi of Manhood End,
“I dare not shut His chapel on such as care to attend.”

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