Friday, 10 August 2012

The true story of the Devil's Dyke

Just north of Brighton, running approximately southwards towards the sea from the steep, scarp face of the South Downs is a dry valley nearly a mile long and 300 feet deep.  This is the Devil's Dyke.

Hundreds of years ago there lived in the Weald of Sussex a devout Christian man, Cuthman, later to be Saint Cuthman.  It was he more than any other who had been responsible for the remarkable spread of Christianity in this heavily wooded and largely inaccessible county.  Late one afternoon, as he was on his way to visit an old lady living as a hermit on the top of the Downs, he paused awhile to admire the view and catch his breath after climbing the steep slope of the Downs.  Maybe too, he felt a little pride as he saw the number of church towers dotting the woodland and fields. 

As he sat there, the Devil suddenly appeared beside Cuthman.

"This," said the Devil, "was my country until you interfered.  I will demonstrate my power by digging a ditch through the Downs to the sea so that all those people and churches will be drowned."

After some discussion, the two agreed that if the Devil could indeed dig a ditch through the Downs before the first light of dawn, he would possess Cuthman's soul.  On the other hand, if he failed, he would flee Sussex never to return.

As darkness started to fall, Cuthman continued on his way to visit the old lady and the Devil started furiously to dig.  Cuthman heard the woman's confession and told her her penance.

"You must rise at three o'clock, place a lighted candle in your window and pray for two hours."

Cuthman left and returned to watch the Devil as he dug.  At three o'clock, as instructed, the old lady placed a lighted candle in her window.  Cuthman drew the attention of this to the Devil who mistook it for the first light of dawn.  He threw down his shovel in disgust and, true to his word, left Sussex for ever.

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