Anglo-Saxon Britain (410-1066)
St Wilfrid and the Fishers of Men : Driven out of Northumbria, Bishop Wilfrid goes to the south coast and saves a kingdom from starvation.
St Wilfrid and the Fishers of Men

Based on ‘A History of the English Church and People’, by St Bede of Jarrow (early 8th century).

In 681 St Wilfrid, exiled from Northumbria by King Ecgfrith, arrived in Sussex, the still-pagan Kingdom of the South Saxons, where he and his monks had an instant impact.

WHEN Wilfrid came to Sussex in 681, he found that the region had been suffering three years of continuous drought. Though they lived by the coast, the locals could do no more than snare a few eels in the muddy rivers, and sometimes forty or fifty would link arms and leap from a cliff-top, preferring to drown in the sea rather than starve.

Wilfrid and his monks hastily went through the villages borrowing eel-nets, and then showed the villagers how to cast them in the sea. In no time, the Christians had three hundred fish on the sands. Some they put by for themselves, some they used to pay for the nets, and the rest they served to the starving.

The South Saxons began to look more kindly on this strange faith, that brought life out of a sea that had meant only death. Indeed, many came forward to be baptised; and on the very day they did, a soft, refreshing rain began falling.

* Bede does not mention it, but he must have expected his readers to connect the episode to the miraculous catch of the fishermen Peter and Andrew in Luke 5:1-10. “And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”

Based on ‘A History of the English Church and People’, by St Bede of Jarrow (early 8th century).

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Picture: © Paul Farmer, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Vertiginous cliffs at Birling Gap in Sussex. In his ‘History of England’, Edmund Burke retold this same story as an illustration of how the Christians brought civilisation and freedom to a society that did not understand either of them. He did not hesitate to lay the blame for the South Saxons’ desperate plight squarely on their pagan religion, by making them afraid of the sea and everything that lived in it.
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