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Location Map

Classic southern profile

East face

East window in South Transept

Memorial Plaque

South Transept looking North

South Transept from Nave

Nave, looking west

The blocked doorways

The chancel from the tower

Chancel and North Transept

Norman traces


Tower and Hospitallers chapel


Take a virtual tour around this historic church - click on the thumbnail images to the sides to see the full-size pictures.

Thought to have been built around 960AD, the Parish Church of St Mary has looked down on the village over the turn of two millennia. The church is mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086, and was granted to the Order of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights Templar. Even today this name has links with the village, as the County First School is called Templars.

The church is normally entered through the South Transept via the porch, as can be seen in the photograph on the left. The porch was added during the late Tudor period, using some of the rubble from the ruined chapel that the Knights of St John had built on the north side of the tower in the 14th century.

The South transept was built by the Templars around 1180 as a private chapel for themselves. Lower than the rest of the church, it is a solid square - perhaps typical of a Crusader's castle. It has its own chancel and sacristy, which now houses the Sussex marble Norman font, although on a modern pillar.

Above the font is a plaque detailing the dedication of the windows in this chancel to a former vicar of the parish. To the left, there is a doorway to the sacristy - a strong room between this chancel and the chancel of the main church to contain valuable. Exempt from all taxes, the Templars were a wealthy order, and this fact appears to have contributed to their downfall by the early 14th century.

Other features of this transept are the remains of an original Norman window arch high on the west wall, and a Norman stone carving of an abbot on the east wall near the pulpit. The organ pipes and console are also housed against the west wall of the transept. The organ, over 100 years old, has now sadly fallen into disuse, but it is hoped to restore it in the future. A digital electronic organ housed in the North Transept is currently used.

From here, a small flight of steps takes you up to the level of the rest of the church, and into the nave. Rebuilt to the original Saxon plan with the walls in line with the tower by the Templars in the late 12th century, it is unusual in that there is no arch separating the nave from the chancel.

Two blocked doorways can be seen on the northern wall. One, which led outside, has a carved stone built into it with Saxon carvings facing west, and a 13th Century of Our Lord facing east. The second doorway led to the former Hospitallers chapel.

Looking toward the chancel from the tower, there is a real impression of length, attenuated by the height of the church, the narrowness of the nave, and the lack of arch between the nave and the chancel. The large east window adds a beautiful mix of light, colour and warmth.

The North Transept was originally a separate chapel for the private use of the Templars. Divided north to south, the east housed two smaller chapels, the southern of which would have served as the chancel. A carved stone corbel (a bracket of stone, wood, brick or other building material projecting from the face of a wall to support a cornice or arch) can be seen on the eastern wall. To the west, traces of a Norman window can be seen, along with the remains an opening to the outside.

There are a number of memorials to the Crofts and Tristram families, who have a long association with Sompting and its church. In the north-east corner there is a wooden cross from the French battlefields of the First World War, where one of the Tristram family perished.

Returning the the chancel, on the north wall there is the carved tomb of Richard Burré, a member of the London Guild Companies, who died in 1527. Its intended use was as an Easter Sepulchre, to replace an earlier one which can be seen just to the right in the photograph - a small recess in the wall with Saxon carving around.

On the southern wall, there is a sacrarium, or "piscina" - a stone basin with a drain for carrying away the water used in ceremonial ablutions (from the Latin, literally fish tank). This also has Saxon carvings adorning the top.

Returning outside, we walk to the far north-west of the church yard, where we have an excellent view of the tower and the remains of the Hospitallers chapel. The oldest part of the church, the Saxon tower is famous for being the only remaining example of the "Rhenish Helm", or "Rhineland Helmet". The stone pilaster strips in the centre and corners of each wall are clearly visible in the picture, as are remnants of windows and the high Saxon windows.

The Hospitallers chapel fell into ruin after the order was dissolved in 1540. Some of the stones were used to build the south porch as mentioned above, and it was not until 1971 that a new building was erected on the footprint of the former chapel. Named after its predecessor, it is a chapel and the parish room, and so also continues the functions of the original building.

Moving round to the east end of the Hospitallers room, we can see the outside of the blocked doorway that we saw inside in the north wall of the nave. Also, some edging stones can be seen in the west wall of the north transept, whcih can also be seen on the inside face of this wall.


Garden of Remembrance and War Memorial

Norman Font

Abbot carving

South Transept from Nave

Norman arch, and organ

East aspect

West aspect

The East Window


Burré tomb

Burré plaque

Hospitallers room

Blocked door

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