See of Selsey

Seoles [Old English], Seleisi [Domesday Book 1086], Celesye [Assize Roll 1279] or Selsey as it is known today is, according to the Venerable Bede, derived from the Saxon Seals-ey and can be interpreted as the Isle of Sea Calves (sea calves are better known as seals), an island peninsula off the coast of West Sussex. It has been continuously inhabited since the Stone Age with evidence of settlements from the Palaeolithic period.

Selsey lies at the southernmost point of the Manhood Peninsula, almost cut off from mainland Sussex by the sea. It is bounded to the west by Bracklesham Bay, to the north by Broad Rife (rife being the local word for stream or creek), to the east by Pagham Harbour and terminates in the south at Selsey Bill. The B2145 is the only road in and out of the town crossing a bridge over the water inlet at Pagham Harbour at a point known as “the ferry”. At one time Selsey was inaccessible at flood tide, and a boat was stationed at the ferry to take horses and passengers to and from Sidlesham. Selsey was the capital of the Kingdom of Sussex, possibly founded by Ælle.

Episcopal See

The episcopal see at Selsey was founded by Saint Wilfrid, formerly Bishop of the Northumbrians, for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Sussex in the late 7th century. He was granted land by Æthelwealh of Sussex to build a cathedral at Selsey. However, shortly afterwards Cædwalla of Wessex conquered the Kingdom of Sussex, but he confirmed the grant to Wilfrid. The bishop’s seat was located at Selsey Abbey.

When Wilfrid arrived in Sussex, there was a small community of five or six Irish monks led by Dicul in Bosham, however it seems that they had made little headway in evangelising the local people. It would not have been unusual to have found Irish monks in Sussex as during this period it was common to follow the doctrine of peregrinatio pro Christo, a self-imposed exile to serve God. Also, the South of England generally was part of the overland route for the Irish travelling to the continent.

At the time of Wilfrid, it would have been a financial expedient to set up a See in an existing monastery rather than build a cathedral church from scratch. This may have been why the cathedra (Bishop’s Chair) was originally set in Selsey rather than Chichester. According to the Domesday Book, at the time of Edward the Confessor the diocese of Selsey had been one of the poorest bishoprics in the country. After the Norman Conquest, however, the new Norman landholders could afford to spend large sums of money on buildings, including churches, so that the cost of translating the See to Chichester would not have been a problem.

Nine years after the Norman conquest, in 1075, the Council of London enacted that episcopal sees should be removed to cities or larger towns. Accordingly, the see at Selsey was removed to Chichester. Some sources claim that Stigand, the last Bishop of Selsey, continued to use the title Bishop of Selsey until 1082, before adopting the new title Bishop of Chichester, indicating that the transfer took several years to complete.

The abbey became the seat of the Sussex bishopric, until it was moved, after a synod in 1075, to Chichester. The location of the abbey was probably at the site of, what became, the old parish church at Church Norton just north of modern-day Selsey.

Titular See

After Stigand the title of the See of Selsey fell into abeyance and has been used as a titular title since. The term titular see is used to signify a diocese that no longer functionally exists, often because the diocese once flourished but the territory was conquered by non-believers or no longer functions because of a schism. After a name change, an abandoned name may be ‘restored’ as a titular see, even though a residential successor see exist(ed) e.g. Chichester. Since the Reformation, the Church of England has continued to use the title Chichester for its bishop’s cathedra and diocese covering Sussex, whereas the Roman Catholic Church adopted the new title of Arundel & Brighton for its diocese in the same region.

When the administrator of the Sussex Mission of the Old Roman Catholic Church, Jerome Lloyd was elected the new Metropolitan for the Province of Europe, he chose Selsey for his titular title. It is the ecclesiological polity of the Old Roman Catholic Church that her bishops adopt titular sees though they canonically govern territorial dioceses as ordinaries, believing they hold such authority until the “See of Peter at Rome” returns to orthodox doctrine, exercising such authority canonically under the auspices of the “See of Peter at Antioch” since the reception of the Old Roman Catholic (Western Orthodox) Church into Orthodoxy in 1911.

The twenty-sixth successor following St Wilfrid of the titular See of Selsey is Metropolitan Jerome Lloyd OSJV who was elected Metropolitan of Europe in January 2012. Consecrated in Canada on the feast of St Pius V that same year by Archbishop Boniface Grosvold (who was too frail to travel), Metropolitan Jerome became seventh in direct apostolic succession from Archbishop Gerardus Gul of the See of Utrecht in the Netherlands founded by St Willibrord, a former novice and monk of St Wilfrid when at Ripon Abbey before his exile to Sussex in approx’ 680AD. Thus the present episcopal titular title holder of the See of Selsey founded by St Wilfrid, possesses apostolic succession from the successor of the See that sainted missionary’s pupil, Willibrord, founded in the Netherlands at Utrecht!

The titular See of Selsey has never been used by the Church of England. The Roman Catholic Church restored the use of the titular title in 1969. However, the titular title is by HM’s Government, UK, recognised as Metropolitan Jerome’s legal identity.