The Enigma of Sele


The Site of Sele Priory in Sussex holds a landscape puzzle awaiting solution ~ a remarkably symmetrical configuration of ancient churches in the Sussex landscape.


Some years ago I put up a Website on the Internet which I called “The Secret of Sele”.  It became a casualty when my IP’s free hosting was discontinued but a simplified version still exists, generously  accommodated  by Templar Mechanics :


One of the reasons I was relaxed about its demise was that I had become “pigg
y in the middle”  between strongly opposing views, those of the inconvincible sceptic and others of a more credulous mystical disposition.

My position all along has been that although I can offer no explanation why this unique configuration should exist, the oddness of the  enigma ought to continue to be available for consideration by those of an enquiring mind.



The ancient site is at Upper Beeding, near Steyning & Shoreham by Sea, just ten metres above sea level on the east bank of the River Adur between spurs in the South Downs. With panoramic views it lies north-west of Bramber Castle and the towns of Steyning and Shoreham-by-Sea are close by.

Once used as a Benedictine Priory, today the location is the home of  the Parish Church of St Peter, its Churchyard (with new burial ground) and an adjacent residential building, its former Vicarage. It seems likely that the location has been used for sacred purposes since earliest times.


                                                                                            Sele Priory Church and former Vicarage

Without Prejudice


Before any misunderstandings arise I need to make it clear that what is under discussion are “ALIGNMENTS”…………not New Age invisible, mental or bodily experiences but objective, factual, observable, measurable, verifiable, repeatable relationships between solid objects securely anchored in the landscape and shown in inks, to scale, on officially surveyed maps.

The pattern is one of landscape lines, triangulation, equi-distancing and central focusing, balanced and mirrored to a surprising tolerance and difficult to attribute to a random origin.

Furthermore, the key points are all, and only, found at the sites of ancient Christian churches ……….... no convenient manholes, pillar boxes, electricity pylons or other tempting features have been included to assist with the symmetry of the configuration.

The Configuration



The layout is indicated by red lines.          

The pattern overlays the sites or buildings of a total of 27 Churches. 24 appear to be components of the overall layout, although 4 of these are just off alignment. That leaves 20 of the 27 positioned in the configuration and marking key points.Most are Norman or earlier. It covers about 10 miles overall.

Equidistances are within a tolerance inconceivable by co-incidence. Most of the shapes, particularly the isosceles triangles with apexes at Ashurst and Henfield, are “handed” i.e. they can be folded over each other.

Some of the intermediates, particularly Lancing and Newtimber would have been dismissed had they not been in such proximity to the “overall scheme”.  Pyecombe is suspect and at this stage its inclusion can only be justified on the hypothesis that originally it had an earlier and very nearby site.

Of the remaining six, Steyning acts as an intermediate described in “b” of “Other Significant Landscape Features below. Only five, St Botolphs, Bramber, Buncton, Albourne and Woodmancote appear, so far, to make no contribution whatsoever.

Random or Reason

The main argument in favour of a “below chance” explanation is that there are indeed a number of other contemporary churches, not part of the pattern within the same study area. It is opined  that if enough peas are thrown onto a table some sort of image will be observed because the human brain is programmed to make sense of what it perceives. I have so far been unable to persuade a statistician to examine the enigma for me but I find it very hard to believe that "too many peas” have been broadcast in this case.

The believers, working from an intuitive position claim that aerially viewed alignments and landscape patterns of this kind are found the world over. They cite the desert of ancient Egypt, the lines at Nazca, the ceremonial landscape at Stonehenge & Avebury and numerous other pre-historic ancestral and astronomically inspired designs.


The Enigma

The “enigma” springs from the original choice of this unique site, known for centuries as Sele. In earlier times sea and river levels would almost certainly have been higher resulting in a much larger flood plain in the estuary. Sele would have been a small but attractive island and other options for building in the area would have been vastly reduced. Nothing too puzzling about that, perhaps!  However, it is the subsequent focus upon this tiny site by later developments, mainly the relationship it has with neighbouring ancient churches and perhaps its two high horizons, which creates the riddle or riddles because there are many. The location is shown in more detail on the map below.


The Churches

The layout and its accuracy is easily established by overlaying the latest 1 : 50,000 Ordnance Survey  Map 198. The illustrations to this website are based on an O.S. one inch to the mile edition issued over 50 years ago and therefore out of copyright. They are no longer true to scale.

Sele Priory is spotted    black on red.

Historical Anglican Churches forming the main configuration are dotted blue on mauve.

Ditto, either apparently outside the configuration or slightly off line, are marked in green and dotted black.




Some background information        

According to the Church guide-book there was a pre-Norman Christian presence with the original Saxon building, probably of wattle and plaster, being built sometime after St Wilfred entered Sussex in AD 681. King Alfred’s father, Elthelwulf,  died in the parish in AD 858. After the Normans invaded, William de Braose, Lord of Bramber Castle, founded a Priory just north of the Church and it became known as Sele Priory. It was placed under the control of the Benedictine Monastery at Saumur on the River Loire in France.

Thereafter to the present day, the site has had an almost unbroken sacred use. Sighted on a hillock the point has views directed towards the two downland ridges over which the sun rises and sets for most of the year. There is also a magnificent prospect of Chanctonbury Ring and an east/west Roman road crossed the river nearby.

The Benedictines were first in possession of the House back in mid C11th. and the former Order is reputed to have taken a “heretical” interest in geometry (as did the Knights Templar who also feature very heavily in the history of the area.)

There are seals showing the building and its three towers and also a nearby hospital, which seems to have had associations with St Catherine’s wheel and displays a strange tree icon.

Many ancient Sussex Churches are believed to have occupied pre-Conquest sites.

Various Place-name derivations have been suggested but “sel and sol” have astronomical associations, although more likely the name Sele has resulted from the early salt-panning industry in the estuary.



Other Significant Landscape Features



a. The straight parish boundary between the parishes of Sompting and Lancing, which arises near the likely lowest bridging point of the Teville Stream, when projected arrives at Sele after passing through Lancing Clump. Blue line

b. A  line drawn from Chanctonbury summit through St Andrews, Steyning finishes at Sele. Green Line

c. A projection of the line of the Roman Road from Pulborough is also sighted on Sele..Yellow line

d. Not directed at Sele: Four church alignment to Devils Dyke – Sullington, Washington, Wiston, Edburton. Red line


For those wishing to dig deeper into this mystery, notes on the relationship of the churches
to each other and possible explanations are set out in on the next pages in Appendices I  &  II .



©  RB 2001 - 2014