Classic southern profile
East window in South Transept
South Transept looking North
South Transept from Nave
Nave, looking west
The blocked doorways
The chancel from the tower
Chancel and North Transept
Tower and Hospitallers chapel
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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.
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.
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
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
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
South Transept from Nave
Norman arch, and organ
The East Window