See of Chichester

Coordinates: 50°50′13″N 0°46′48″W / 50.837°N 0.780°W / 50.837; -0.780

Diocese of Chichester
Ecclesiastical province Canterbury
Archdeaconries Chichester, Horsham, Lewes & Hastings
Parishes 369
Churches 500
Cathedral Chichester Cathedral
Current leadership
Bishop Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester
Suffragans Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham
Bishop of Lewes (Vacant)
Archdeacons Douglas McKittrick, Archdeacon of Chichester
Roger Combes, Archdeacon of Horsham
Philip Jones, Archdeacon of Lewes & Hastings

The Diocese of Chichester is a Church of England diocese based in Chichester, covering Sussex. It was created in 1075 to replace the old Diocese of Selsey, which was based at Selsey Abbey from 681. The cathedral is Chichester Cathedral and the bishop is the Bishop of Chichester. It is part of the Province of Canterbury.

Diocesan structure

The Bishop of Chichester has overall episcopal oversight of the diocese, assisted by the Bishop of Horsham and the Bishop of Lewes. The suffragan See of Lewes was created in 1909 and the See of Horsham in 1968.

The three archdeaconries of the diocese are Chichester, Horsham, and Lewes & Hastings.[1] The Archdeaconry of Chichester covers the coastal region of West Sussex, along with Brighton and Hove.[1] The Archdeaconry of Horsham covers the remainder of West Sussex.[1] The Archdeaconry of Lewes & Hastings covers East Sussex.[1]

The 21 deaneries of the diocese are:

  • Arundel and Bognor
  • Battle and Bexhill
  • Brighton
  • Chichester
  • Cuckfield
  • Dallington
  • Eastbourne
  • East Grinstead
  • Hastings
  • Horsham
  • Hove
  • Hurst
  • Lewes and Seaford
  • Midhurst
  • Petworth
  • Rotherfield
  • Rye
  • Storrington
  • Uckfield
  • Westbourne
  • Worthing


Christianity was introduced to the British Isles during the Roman occupation. When the Romans departed, there were waves of non-Christian invasions from northern Europe; these were mainly Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Celtic Christianity was driven, with the Celts, into the remote western parts of the islands. The south of England was settled by Saxons. After the invasions had finished, Roman missionaries evangelized the south east of England and Celtic missionaries the rest of the British Isles.[2]

The Kingdom of Sussex remained steadfastly non-Christian until the arrival of Saint Wilfrid in 681 AD.[2] Wilfrid built his cathedral church in Selsey and dedicated it to Saint Peter. The original structure would have been made largely of wood. The stones from the old cathedral would have been used in the later church.[2] Some stonework discovered in a local garden wall was believed to have come from the palm cross that stood outside the original cathedral and is now integrated into the war memorial that is in the perimeter wall outside the church.[2]

The cathedral founded at Selsey was probably built, where the chancel of the old church still remains, at Church Norton .[3] Selsey Abbey was the first seat of the South Saxon see. The seat was moved to Chichester in 1075 under William the Conqueror.[2]

Insignia and shield of the diocese

One of the earliest representations of the diocesan coat of arms is that on the seal of Bishop Ralph Neville (1224–1243). A similar representation appears on the seal of his successor, St Richard (1244–1253).[4]

Most of the older English cathedrals have arms of a simple design, usually various combinations of crosses, swords, keys and so on. Our Lady and the Holy Child are however shown in the top third of Lincoln’s shield and occupy the whole of Salisbury’s shield. Excluding the diocese of Sodor and Man, which was linked with Denmark prior to 1546, Chichester is the only other old diocese which includes a human figure in its arms. Over the centuries identifying the figure has attracted some unusual theories. The most common misconception, which was still being repeated in 1894, was that the arms show "Presbyter John sitting on a tombstone". [4] Presbyter John, or "Prester John" as he is more commonly known, was a figure of mediaeval fantasy who appeared in many books and travellers tales. It was said that he was an all-powerful and immensely rich Christian emperor who lived in the East or in Africa and who would come to the aid of crusaders. A letter circulated in Europe in about 1165 referred to the annual visit of Prester John and his army, complete with chariots and elephants, to the tomb of the prophet Daniel in Babylonia Deserta. It was the imagery of this letter that seems to have become attached to Chichester’s diocesan coat of arms.[4]

Much more likely is that the imagery is parallel to that seen in an early fourteenth manuscript of the Apocalypse of St John. This illustrates several passages with a figure who variously has a sword across his mouth, holds an open book, and is seated on a throne. The clearest illustration accompanies chapter 19, verses 11-16:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no-one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of Lords. [4]

In this manuscript are to be seen the main elements of the diocesan coat of arms and there is thus tangible support for what common sense suggests — that the figure is that of our Lord as ruler of the nations. The image was common in Byzantine iconography as Christ the Pantocrator.[4]

In 1626 Thomas Vicars, vicar of Cuckfield, wrote in a sermon which he illustrated with references to the book of Revelation and also to Hebrews chapter 4 verse 12, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” He dedicated his sermon to his father-in-law, the then Bishop of Chichester:

The subject of the sermon is your Coate of Armes. The most godly and fairest Armes that ever I or any in the world set his eyes upon. Christ Jesus the great Pastor and Bishop of our soules sits in your azure field in a faire long garment of beaten gold, with a sharpe two- edged sword in his mouth. Is it accounted a great grace, and that for Kings and Princes too, to carrie in their shields, a Lyon, an Eagle, a Lilly, a Harpe or such-like animal or artificial thing? How much more honour is it then I pray you to carrie Christ Jesus in your shield, who is Lord of Lords and King of Kings? [4]

The position of the sword in the diocesan coat of arms is a matter that has raised some questions. In the newly drawn coat of arms the sword has been placed across the mouth, whereas previously and in the cathedral’s coat of arms the sword is placed to the right of the mouth. It seems likely that medieval versions had the former position, while later generations have preferred the latter.[4]

A medieval window in Bourges cathedral, France, depicts Christ with seven seals in his right hand and seven stars in his left. The sword is clearly across his mouth, as it is in the depiction of the same scene on the great Apocalypse tapestry in the chateau at Angers, also in France. In both of these representations, however, the sword points to the viewer’s left, the opposite way from the diocesan arms.[4]

Child abuse

In 2011 the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed an inquiry into long-running child protection problems in the diocese. The interim inquiry report found that there had been "an appalling history" over two decades of child protection problems and that many children had suffered hurt and damage. Because of concerns that safeguarding still remained dysfunctional, Lambeth Palace took over the oversight of clergy appointments and the protection of children and vulnerable adults in the diocese.[5][6] Previously Baroness Butler-Sloss had carried out a review of historic child sex abuse problems that had led to the conviction of a priest in 2008.[7]

On 13 November 2012 two former clergy of the diocese, including the former Bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball, were arrested by police investigating allegations of child sex abuse in the 1980s and 1990s. The arrests followed the submission of reports by a safeguarding consultant from Lambeth Palace to the police.[8]

On 5 April 2013, Hove Crown Court convicted Michael Mytton and the Revd Keith Wilkie Denford of sexually assaulting boys between 1987 and 1994 when they had been at St John the Evangelist's Church, Burgess Hill in the Chichester diocese; Mytton as organist and Denford as vicar.[9] St John the Evangelist's had employed Mytton despite his having been forced to leave a parish in Uckfield in 1981 because he was convicted of committing two acts of gross indecency with a 12-year-old boy.[9][10] Denford was jailed for 18 months and Mytton was given a suspended jail term.[11]

In July 2013, following a ruling by the General Synod, the Church of England formally apologised for past child abuse and the church's failure to prevent it.[12]



External links

  • Diocese of Chichester website