St Mary Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex - 6th October 2004

Sompting is a church I have had on my "must see soon" list for a year or so!  It has the only remaining "Rhenish helm" tower roof (with four gables) in England, complete with the original Saxon timbers underneath.

I was particularly pleased with this photograph as the clouds, lighting conditions and shadows all conspired to produce the (almost!) perfect church photograph. Notice the small Saxon windows high in the walls together with the original stone pilaster strips in the centre of each wall and at the corners. The walls are of solid masonry and stand on a natural chalk foundation.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

Inside, the tower arch, at the west end of the nave, is an important example of Saxon architecture.  An altar originally stood against the east wall of the tower, and therefore the arch is not in the centre of the wall. The photograph is of the arch from the nave.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

Here is a photograph of the moulding detail at the top of the arch pillar. Glorious workmanship and a thousand years old.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

The church is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and was granted to the Order of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a Crusading Order of fighting monks commonly known as the Templars, in 1154.  Soon afterwards they rebuilt the nave and chancel on the original Saxon plan with the walls aligned with the tower walls. They added the present north north and south transepts, which were originally walled off from the main chapel for use as private chapels for their members.  Many of their small Norman windows have been replaced at various dates by larger windows.

The view below is of the nave and chancel from the base of the tower.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

In a blocked doorway on the north side of the nave, carved stones have been mounted so that both faces may be examined, the back faces west and shows Saxon carving, while the front, facing east shows a 13th century carving of Our Lord in Majesty.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTCParish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

The north transept was originally a separate chapel for the use of the Templars. It has a central pillar, just visible in the photograph below, supporting the vaulted roofs of the two small chapels to the east, the southern one of which would have served as a chancel for this part of the building. The west wall contains traces of an original Norman window discovered in 1989 and near the north eastern corner is a wooden cross from the battlefields of World War I. The walls contain memorials to the Crofts and Tristram families.

North transept, Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

A corbel with this strange, but happy, face on the eastern wall supports the vaulting of the roof between the chapels.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

There is no arch separating the nave and chancel. Low down in the corners of the east wall are two aumbries, which probably once contained relics. In the south wall is a piscina with two strips of Saxon carving ornamenting the top.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

Here is the Victorian east window.  Click here or on the photograph below to view pictures of the other beautiful stained glass windows in this church.

The east window - click the image to view the rest of the stained glass.

On the north wall is the carved tomb of Richard Burr who died in 1527, a member of the London Guild Companies. The design is simple and was planned to be used as an Easter Sepulchre, and to replace the earlier example still visible a little further east with its small recess and strip of Saxon carving.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

Behind the altar there is an elaborate Victorian carved limestone reredos.

The blocked opening in the south wall is thought to have connected with the lower level of the south transept. The south transept was also built as a private chapel by the Templars, in about 1180.  It is lower in level and is very solidly constructed.  It has its own miniature chancel and sacristy, and forms a complete church within a church.

Here is a view looking from the north transept across the nave and into the south transept. The height of the arch in the south wall over the doorway is thought to have been designed to admit Templar banners.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

The church font and organ are nowadays housed in this part of the building. The Norman font is of Sussex Marble and now stands on a modern pillar in the former chancel of this chapel, out of which leads a small door which leads to the sacristy built between the chancels as a strong room to contain valuables.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTCParish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

High on the west wall is the arch of an original Norman window discovered in 1989, and on the east wall near the pulpit is this Norman stone carving of an abbot.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

This carved head appears in the church porch - rather more solemn than the one supporting the roofs of the north transept chapels.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

Here is a view of the church from the east.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

This final view of this very special church is taken from the south, where the solidity of the south transept is very apparent.

Parish Church, Sompting, West Sussex, 6th October 2004 - MTC

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