Friday, 13 July 2012

From cathedral to chapel

St Wilfrid is a name which crops up a lot in Sussex, with churches, schools, roads and a hospice named for him.  St Wilfrid was a Northumbrian abbot who was made Bishop of York in about AD664; according to some reports he was shipwrecked off the coast of Sussex in about AD666 and narrowly escaped being killed by the none too friendly natives.  Not a great start to his association with the county!  He returned to York but following a dispute with the King Egfrid (Wilfrid had helped Egfrid's wife become a nun) he went back to Sussex where  King Ethelwald of the South Saxon's had already been converted to Christianity and wanted the same for his people.  He gave Wilfrid land at Selsey where he built a cathedral somewhere close to, if not on  the same spot as the current chapel in Church Norton and Wilfrid spent the next five years successfully converting the heathens of Sussex to Christianity.  Of course this is a very simplified account and there is dispute as to whether Wilfrid was the first and/or the only person in Sussex at the time who was preaching and converting to the Christian faith.  However that Wilfrid did establish the centre of Sussex Christianity in Selsey at this time is not in dispute and it remained there until shortly after the Norman Conquest.  His cathedral is long gone (probably as a result of coastal erosion) and the Normans removed the See from Selsey to Chichester in 1075 where they began building the new cathedral.

A new church was built at Church Norton, dedicated to St Peter, to serve the local population but by the nineteenth century it was isolated from its main congregation, the town of Selsey having developed about two miles away.  It was therefore decided to move the church from Church Norton to the centre of Selsey so in 1864 work began removing all but the chancel from Church Norton to Selsey brick by brick.   The new church in Selsey was also dedicated to St Peter. 
St Wilfrid's, Church Norton (2012)
The chancel remained at the original site where it was used as a mortuary chapel for many years.  In 1906 the chapel acquired some fittings from St Martins in Chichester when it was demolished and then in 1917 it was rededicated to St Wilfrid and it became part of the parish of St Peters, Selsey.  Finally in 1990 it was made redundant and it is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, several services are held there still each year including one of the 12th October - the feast day of St Wilfrid.

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