Two Abbeys


The imposing "caput" of William de Braose's barony at Bramber began to sprawl across the Saxon landscape. Local rights and customs became subordinate to his will. He built a large wooden bridge over the river at Bramber and established his own port there. (4.1) The ships using Saint Cuthman's Port were forced to pay a toll to William de Braose before they could reach their destination. 

In 1085 the King belatedly confirmed Fécamp Abbey's claims to Saint Cuthman's Church, with the income from its three manors including Steyning. A rival force was planning expansion in William de Braose's domains and threatened his baronial supremacy.  Naturally he opposed it but the abbey was more than equal to the fight.

In an aggressive claim for burial fees, the monks challenged Bramber's right to bury its parishioners in the churchyard at Saint Nicholas. This was William de Braose's new church, built to serve the castle.

In 1086 the King called his sons, barons and bishops to court to settle the dispute, which took a full day. The Abbey of Fécamp swayed the court in its favour and William de Braose had to organise an exhumation of all the bodies, which must have been an unpleasant and distressing event. (4.2)

Fécamp's victory meant that Bramber's dead were all moved to the churchyard at Saint Cuthman's. William de Braose also lost the right to charge the abbey tolls at his bridge and the port of Bramber failed to thrive. Fécamp fought him and won over a rabbit warren, a park, gardens, a causeway and a channel to fill his moat which had all encroached onto the abbey's land.

The monks celebrated their reinstated income by ostentatiously rebuilding Saint Cuthman's Church. They rededicated it to Saint Andrew and transported Saint Cuthman's relics to Fécamp Abbey.

This was the first of several legal battles. The dispute was exacerbated by Sele Priory in Upper Beeding. William de Braose's attempt to form a college of secular canons at Saint Nicholas' Church in 1073 failed, as at Briouze.  After 1080 he made improved arrangements at Sele which again mirrored those in Briouze.

Like most Norman lords, he felt a pressing need for prayers to be said regularly to redeem his sins and to assist the souls of his family. It had become fashionable to establish religious foundations for this purpose. Obviously the monks at Steyning would not be invited to do the job, so William's patronage went to rival Benedictines from the Saint Florent Abbey of Saumur in Anjou, which must have impressed him greatly.

Saint Florent established the Priory of Sele at Upper Beeding and the two abbeys of Fécamp and Saint Florent then set about disputing eachother's rights as neighbours for several centuries to come.

The Sele Priory was sited over the river from Steyning and Bramber. Saint Peter's Church still stands on the same spot but the private buildings which adjoin it show little trace of the original priory. William handed Saint Nicholas' at Bramber, Saint Botolph's, Saint Nicholas' in Old Shoreham and other churches within the rape to the monks of Saint Florent.

The Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp attracted immense wealth. Its holy relics included the blood of Christ and a bone from the arm of Mary Magdalene. Richard I and Richard II, Dukes of Normandy, lie buried in the Abbey Church, which stands opposite the ruins of a ducal palace. The monks of Fécamp were once famous for their Benedictine liqueur. This is now produced commercially at the Palais Benedictine.
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The castle church of Saint Nicholas was dedicated to the patron saint of seafarers, perhaps in anticipation that Bramber would become a great port.
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The church of Saint Andrew was originally founded by Cuthman, an 8th Century saint. He transported his mother from Bosham to Steyning in a wheelbarrow, performing several strange miracles along the way.
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