These notes are taken, with permission, from Jenny Drury’s cd, ‘Ovingdean Village’. They also rely almost exclusively on the very extensive research of John G. Davies of Ovingdean. John’s research was painstaking and precise; it is the result of many hundreds of hours searching sources in East Sussex and London.
A ‘little church’ at Ovingdean is first mentioned in the Domesday Book. Essentially it is an early Norman building, which has been restored and altered many times in its history. It is a Grade A listed building.
DEDICATION TO ST WULFRAN
There is only one other church in England dedicated to St. Wulfran and that is in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The date of the dedication is not known; it could have been anytime between the 7th century (when he lived) and 1512 when it is first mentioned in records. St. Wulfran was born in about 650 AD in a village near Paris; his father was a wealthy nobleman. Much to his father’s disappointment he decided to be a priest rather than a soldier. In about 693 he was made archbishop at Sens but three years later resigned and became a missionary. He spent his life converting pagans and performing miracles; he died in 720 at Fontenelle Abbey where he was buried. In 1058 his body was moved to Abbeyville, Normandy where it remains to this day. Although we can only speculate on the reasons for the church being dedicated to this particular saint, it is possible that it was through the auspices of the Warenne family who owned land in both Ovingdean and Grantham.
EVOLUTION OF THE BUILDING
Based on interpretation of historical sources and visual evidence we can suggest that the nave and chancel are probably 1066-86; the tower is c1216 and contains c1430 bell. The porch is probably c1805, the Lady Chapel is 1907 and the vestry is 1983.
The church has served the community of Ovingdean for almost 1000 years. St Wulfran’s is a fascinating ancient building, recently hailed by English Heritage as ‘an exceptional historical building.’ We must remember that the church is there to provide a focus for the spiritual life of the village: it is a meeting place for the community, and a haven of peace in a noisy world.
Very little is known about St Wulfran (sometimes spelt Wulfram) and ours is one of only two churches in the UK dedicated to this Saint, the other being in Grantham, Lincolnshire.
Wulfran was bishop and missionary. Born in Milly-la-Forêt, France, he was the son of Fuldert, a courtier in the service of the Frankish King Dagobert (r. 623-639). Wulfran served in the Court of King Thierry (r. 670-687) of Neustria. Once a priest, he was appointed Bishop of Sens, replacing the previous occupant of the see, St. Amatus, who was then in exile. Wulfram resigned after a few years and set out as a missionary to preach among the Frisians. With a group of monks he converted many Frisians, including the son of the pagan ruler Radbod, before finally returning to Fontenelle, France, where he died.
Our beautiful banner was presented to St. Wulfran’s by Fr. Tony Otterwell
Below is a brief “story” as read at out 2009 Harvest and Patronal Songs of Praise
“In a land far away, there lived a very rich and important young man called Wulfran.
He believed in God, so he trained as a priest, and was so well thought of he was soon made an Archbishop. However, he decided it was more important to do good by helping people and spreading the good news of Jesus. He gave away all his wealth, resigned as Archbishop, and went out as a missionary to live amongst the poor and sow the seed of God’s word
He arrived in a land where the custom was to sacrifice people to the heathen gods. One day Wulfran came across two children about to be drowned. They had been tied to posts and left to drown as the tide rose. Wulfran begged the king for their lives but was told that he would not change the custom and mockingly invited Wulfran to save them if he could. The saint then waded into the sea and, though the tide rose, he miraculously saved the two children.
The king and all the people saw this and came to believe in the one true God. The king became a Christian and the people followed him, and were baptized.
So, like a good shepherd, he harvested a great many people to come to the Christian faith.
This is the story of our own St Wulfran”