IF YOU live in Sussex, and even if you don’t, you’ve probably heard of Saint Wilfrid.
He was the one who came from Yorkshire in the year 682 and set up a church in the area of Selsey in West Sussex, an area that in those days was still resolutely pagan.
They also seem to have been none too bright, as Wifrid (it is said) had to teach the locals how to fish! Wilfrid is credited in song and story for having established the Christian faith in Sussex and has churches named in his honour all over the world.
But I wonder if you’ve ever heard of St Lewinna. No? I thought not. She was a young British woman who was martyred for her Christian faith in East Sussex several years before Wilfrid even got here.
She is Sussex’s first (and only female) saint - and is almost totally unknown. There are no churches named for her and the good people of Sussex have never heard of her – except in the little village of Alfriston which is probably where she came from.
I find this glaring omission interesting. Given that the Church of England may well have women bishops in the near future you’d think that they’d be queuing up to honour St Lewinna, but it seems not.
It’s almost as if you can hear some bearded cleric saying to Saint Lewinna: ‘Yes, it’s all right dear and jolly well done, but perhaps you’d just like to make the tea’.
At the risk of sounding like a raging feminist (which I’m not) I have to ask if this omission would be quite so glaring if Lewinna had been a man?
If Wilfrid’s missionary endeavours had been pipped at the post by a stalwart British bloke instead of by this ‘slip of a girl’?
I made some enquiries about the possibility of setting up a Society of Saint Lewinna to celebrate her memory and to raise her profile a bit, and the response I got from some C of E circles was not encouraging. Many would just as soon leave Lewinna where she is – forgotten.
I find this absolutely breathtaking. If ever there was a ‘Saint for our times’ it is Lewinna; a young woman prepared to give everything for her faith, in the face of a violently aggressive paganism and in a male-dominated world.
I will continue in my efforts on behalf of Sussex’s first and only female saint and hope that one day the Church in Sussex will do her the honour that she deserves. If anyone out there would like to know more about Sussex’s ‘Forgotten Saint’ – give me a bell on 01903 744990 or email me at email@example.com
MARK PERRY NASH
Society of Saint Lewinna
Hanover Walk, Storrington