Saxon Churches in Sussex
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St. Mary's Sompting - Tour Gallery 2000

St Mary's Sompting -Tour October 2002

St. Mary's Sompting by Church Sketcher

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From the south, showing the Rhenish Helm style roof of tower

The style of the tower attracts much discussion, it is certainly unique in Sussex, though 'experts' will differ on its true age, origin and whether it is as originally built. See below for details. 

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Sompting. (Worthing or Lancing, 2 miles)

DEDICATION unknown. A grant of a perch of land was made by Simon de Lancinges (Lancing) " to the Church of St. Mary of Suntinge (Sompting), and witnessed by Robert the priest of Suntinge, and Robert the priest of Broadwater." If this were the parish church, the dedication was to the Blessed Virgin. The living of Sompting was given by William de Harcourt and William de Braose " to God, the Blessed Mary, and the Brethren of the Temple of Solomon " (i.e., the Knights Templars). When this Order was suppressed in 1306, the living was bestowed by Sir Andrew Peverell upon the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers), who were in turn dispossessed in the 16th c. on the dissolution of the monasteries. This interesting cruciform church consists of nave, N. and S. transepts, chancel, and ruins of chapel on N. side of tower.

The tower is the only example in England of a Saxon tower with four-sided gabled spire, resembling those of the Rhenish Provinces - Coblentz, Andernach, and the Apostles' Church at Cologne. The cap is "Helm " form. Cartwright states that it was 25 feet higher, but was shortened in 1762. The long-and-short work is peculiar, and the horizontal string course, a third of the way up, is cut into a species of billet moulding. The pilaster strips, derived from the classical pilaster, are marks of late date (11th c.). Roman bricks may be seen in N. and W. of tower. There are some single windows with triangular heads, also some with semi-circular heads; and several double-lights, triangular-headed and round-headed, divided by balusters. Interior of tower has on N. side a blocked-up trefoil-headed recess, and a blocked-up arch which communicated with the chapel, now in ruins; both these can also be seen from the exterior. The tower arch has a large half-round moulding, similar to that at St. Botolph's and at Clayton, and the soffit shaft has a carved capital representing classical leaves. The imposts have volutes with a mass of what appear to be seeds.

The nave is 12th c. work. The blocked-up door on N. (Devil's door) has moulded imposts. The square-headed windows are good examples of late 15th c. work, and have moulded jambs and labels. The Curious E.E. sculpture of Our Lord was originally outside the church, and Cartwright thinks it must have been placed over a door. In the left hand is a book, and the right hand is held in an attitude of benediction. Around are the emblems of the four Evangelists. The other side of this sculptured stone is carved with earlier work.

The N. transept is late Nor. or Tr.-Nor. There is good octopartite groining over each of the two chapels; ribs finely moulded; central bosses are E.E. with foliage, and pierced as if for suspending lamps. The dividing cross-arch is chamfered, and springs from a corbel forming a grotesque head. The central pillar and two responds have scalloped capitals and water- holding bases. The recess is a modern restoration of a former one; consequently there was no division between chapels. There are traces of a doorway in W. wall.

The S. transept is four steps lower than the nave, and is 12th c. work. The chapel, now used as a baptistery, is remarkable for its small projection. It has a half-vault only. There is a recess under a round-headed arch (? aumbry). The door N. of baptistery leads to small sacristy. On E. wall is a fragment of 12th c. bas-relief, with the figure of an ecclesiastic (? St. Wilfrid with his Staff). This may have formed a portion of reredos. The arches of transepts are broad and have plain square soffits. The re-stored porch covers a fine Not. doorway, with shafts and imposts supporting moulded arch of two orders, not springing from the same centre. The modern barge-board is stated to be a copy of the original. The figure heads in porch are c. 1350, and were probably terminations of hood moulding of the N. chapel.

The chancel is 12th c. work, and has no chancel arch, which is rarely absent in early work. Hussey states that traces of Saxon work were apparent in the foundation at the E. end; if so, the Saxon church was of the same length as the present building. At E. end are four recesses, possibly aumbries ; the two behind the altar may have been for reliquaries. The N. recess has a roughly carved arch, a part of an arcade, as the springing of the next is plainly seen. In S. wall of chancel is a piscine under a triangular head, which has interlacing strap and foliage work. There is no shelf. In N. wall is a recess which has bands of interlacing foliage work similar to the piscine. The Ecclesiologist " suggests that this was used as an Easter Sepulchre. It is also surmised that this and the piscine were parts of some older work utilised by the Nor-man builders. The canopied tomb of Richard Burri was also an Easter Sepulchre. It has angels bearing shields with arms of the Leather-sellers', Goldsmiths', and Fishmongers' Companies, also those of the Tregoz family. The E. window is Perp., of three lights. A blocked-up lancet may be seen in the N. wall. The ruined chapel on N. of tower was possibly erected by the Hospitallers in the 14th c., and destroyed in the 15th c., as the Perp. window in nave at E. end of site of chapel shows that it must have been in ruins when this was inserted. There is a closed-up piscina to be seen ; also a blocked-up arch which led to the nave, and a blocked-up trefoil-headed recess and arch on N. of tower. (The recess is considered by some to be a squint or, a low-side window.) There is a bell dated 1795; also another not used. - There was no door originally at W. end; the present one is very late Perp.

The Church Plate includes a small chalice (1612) and a small paten (also of 17th c.). Reg. 1546.

In 1854 the roofs were all raised to the same level and the lean-to roofs of transepts destroyed. Horsham stone was used.

(From Notes on Sussex Churches, F. Harrison 1911)

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All presented material is for Private Study Only
Copyright 2002-2010 Martin B Snow. All rights reserved.
Revised: February 20, 2010 .