In 681 Wilfrid was banished from Northumbria and found refuge under the protection of king Aethelwealh and queen Eaba of the South Saxons, an area ‘which at that time still laboured under the yoke of pagan practices, and there he preached the Christian faith and administered the waters of salvation to believers’ although both king the king and queen were already Christians – the king had not long been baptised in Mercia and the queen in her own province of the Hwicce.
With the king’s consent baptised the foremost leaders and soldiers of the province in the sacred font, and his priests baptised the rest of the people. For three years up to Wilfrid’s arrival there had been no rain and there was a great famine but ‘but on the very day the people received baptism into the faith, a gentle but plentiful rain fell in response to the prayers of the most distinguished father’.
When Wilfrid ‘had seen the torment of so great a famine there, he taught them to obtain food for themselves by fishing. For the ocean and rivers of their land abounded with fish, but the people had no fishing skills except only in catching eels. Consequently, the bishop’s men collected the nets used for catching eels from everywhere and cast them in the sea. They were assisted by the merits of their father Wilfrid and the largesse of God and caught three hundred fish of various sorts…. By his good works the bishop turned their hearts towards a love of him’.
King Eathelwealh presented an estate of eight seven hides at Selsey – which in Latin [Insula Vituli Marini] means ‘the island of the seal’ – to Wilfrid where he would be able to accommodate his own followers who were also wandering as exiles. ‘And when bishop Wilfrid had accepted this place he founded a monastery made up mostly of the brothers that he had brought with him and established a rule of life there; it is known that his successors still control this monastery today. But afterwards the cathedral seat of the bishop was moved to Chichester’.