Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume II: February. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. Cuthman, in England, Confessor
THE SPIRITUAL riches of divine grace were the happy portion of this saint, who seemed from his cradle formed to perfect virtue. His name demonstrates him to have been an English-Saxon, not of British extraction, either from Wales or Cornwall, as Bollandus conjectured. He was born in the southern parts of England, and, from the example of his pious parents, inherited the most perfect spirit of Christian piety. From his infancy he never once transgressed their orders, in the least article, and when sent by his father to keep his sheep, he never failed coming home exactly at the time appointed. This employment afforded him an opportunity of consecrating his affections to God, by the exercises of holy prayer, which only necessary occasions seemed to interrupt, and which he may be said to have always continued in spirit, according to that of the spouse in the Canticles, I sleep, but my heart watcheth. By the constant union of his soul with God, and application to the functions and exercises of the angels, the affections of his soul were rendered daily more and more pure, and his sentiments and whole conduct more heavenly and angelical. What gave his prayer this wonderful force in correcting and transforming his affections, was the perfect spirit of simplicity, disengagement from creatures, self-denial, meekness, humility, obedience, and piety, in which it was founded. We find so little change in our souls by our devotions, because we neglect the practice of self-denial and mortification, live wedded to the world, and slaves to our senses and to self-love, which is an insuperable obstacle to this principal effect of holy prayer. Cuthman, after the death of his father, employed his whole fortune and all that he gained by the labour of his hands, in supporting his decrepit mother: and afterwards was not ashamed to beg for her subsistence. To furnish her necessaries by the sweat of his brow, and by the charitable succours of others, he removed to several places; nor is it to be expressed what hardships and austerities he voluntarily and cheerfully suffered, which he embraced as part of his penance, increasing their severity in order more perfectly to die to himself and to his senses, and sanctifying them by the most perfect dispositions in which he bore them.
Finding, at a place called Steninges, a situation according to his desire, he built there a little cottage to be a shelter from the injuries of the air, in which, with his mother, he might devote himself to the divine service, without distraction. His hut was no sooner finished but he measured out the ground near it for the foundation of a church, which he dug with his own hands. The inhabitants, animated by his piety and zeal, contributed liberally to assist him in completing this work. The holy man worked himself all day, conversing at the same time in his heart with God, and employed a considerable part of the night in prayer. Here he said in his heart: Whither shall I go from thy spirit, O Lord! this is the place of my rest for ever and ever, in which I will every day render to thee my vows. His name was rendered famous by many miracles of which God was pleased to make him the instrument, both living and after his death. He flourished about the eighth century, and his relics were honoured at Steninges. This place Saint Edward the Confessor bestowed on the great abbey of Fecam in Normandy, which was enriched with a portion of his relics. This donation of Steninges, together with Rye, Berimunster, and other neighbouring places made to the abbey of Fecam, was confirmed to the same by William the Conqueror, and the two first Henries, whose charters are still kept among the archives of that house, and were shown me there. This parish and that of Rye, were of the exemption of Fecam, that is, were not subject to the jurisdiction of the diocesan, but to this abbey, as twenty-four parishes in Normandy are to this day: For in the enumeration of the parishes which belong to this exemption in the bulls of several popes, in which it is confirmed, Steninges and Rye are always mentioned with this additional clause, that those places are situated in England.1 St. Cuthman was titular patron of Steninges or Estaninges, and is honoured to this day, on the 8th of February, in the great abbeys of Fecam, Jumieges, and others in Normandy: and his name occurs in the old Missal, used by the English Saxons, before the Norman conquest, kept in the monastery of Jumieges, in which a proper mass is assigned for his feast on the 8th of February. In the account of the principal shrines of relics of saints, honoured anciently in England, published by the most learned Dr. Hickes, mention is made of St. Cuthmans, as follows: At Steninge, on the river Bramber, among the South-Saxons, rest St. Cuthman. See Narratio de Sanctis qui in Anglia quiescunt, published by Hickes, in his Thesaurus Linguarum veterum Septentr, t. 1. in Dissert. Epistol. p. 121. See also two lives of St. Cuthman, in Bollandus, t. 2. Feb. p. 197. and the more accurate lessons for his festival in the Breviary of Fecam. He is honoured in most of the Benedictin abbeys in Normandy.
Note 1. Bollandus had not seen these charters and bulls, or he could not have supposed Steninges to be situated in Normandy, and St. Cuthman to have died in that province. Dom Le Noir, a learned Benedictin monk of the congregation of St. Maur, and library-keeper at Fecam, who is employed in compiling a history of Normandy, gives me the following information by a letter from Fecam: On tient ici à Fécam par une espéce de tradition que Hastings, port dAngleterre, sur la Manche, dans le comté de Sussex, et dans le voisinage de Rye, est le Staninges de lAbbaye de Fécam. Si le nom est un peu différent aujourd hui, on voit des noms des lieux qui ont souffert des plus grandes altérations. This pretended tradition is an evident mistake. Hastings was a famous sea-port under the same name, in the ninth century, and Stening is, at this day, a borough in Sussex, situated under the ruins of Bramber Castle, not far from the river, which was formerly navigable so high, though at present even Shoreham at its mouth has no harbour, the sea having made frequent great changes on this coast, especially in the twelfth century. [back]