The Sussex Coast - online book

A Literary & Historical travel guide to the Sussex Coast

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66                    THE SUSSEX COAST
Selsey, which stands near the point of the Bill named after it, was originally an island, as the ending " ey " implies, and it is said to have derived its name from the seals that are no longer there. Bede says it was surrounded by the sea except for a narrow passage on the west; Holinshed refers to " Selesey, which sometime (as it should seeme) hath beene a noble Hand, but now in maner a By-land or Penisula, wherin the cheefe see of the bishop of Chichester was holden by the space of three hundred twentie nine yeares, and vnder twentie bishops." This state of physical affairs was largely restored by the storm of December, 1910, which remade Pagham Harbour.
Here in 686, welcomed by iEthelwealh, King of South Saxony, preached Wilfrid, the Northumbrian Bishop, who had had practical demonstration of the evil effects of paganism when almost wrecked upon the Sussex shore, and this was his noble revenge. His biographer, Eddius (Vita S. Wilfridi Episcopi Eboracensis), has set forth in a striking passage how when Wilfrid, of blessed memory, was returning from his consecration in Gaul the vessel was thrown on to the unknown shore of the South Saxons. The heathen wreckers came on to seize their prey. But the Lord fought for the few against the many. A stone, blessed by the people of God and hurled by a comrade of Wilfrid, killed the idolatrous chief priest of the heathen standing on a lofty mound; and the bishop himself, by praying, caused the tide to return an hour before its wont, and so the ship was refloated and safely reached the Kentish port of Sandwich.
Now, driven forth by his own people in the North, Wilfrid found refuge in our province, " im­pregnable from the multitude of its rocks and the
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