Tuesday, 13 February 2007

St Andrew, West Stoke

What an endearing little church this is, a humble building set on the magnificent sweep of the Downs. Its nave is small enough, but it overshadows the little tower with its pyramid roof.
From the outside the church looks to be entirely 13th century, the Early English style, with narrow lancet windows and a pointed arch with detached columns in the south doorway under the tower.
Go in, however, and you immediately see a plain round-headed arched doorway opposite, showing that the nave walls are Saxon or Norman, dating back to the 11th century.
Ever since the Reformation the walls have been painted pure white, but a few years ago a startling strip of medieval wall painting was discovered above the chancel arch, behind a roof beam which obviously made it too awkward to chip away so it was just painted over. The remnant is still difficult to see, but shows that the walls must have been a riot of colour, with a depiction of the Last Judgement over the pulpit, just to remind the congregation what to expect if they failed to take note of the preacher’s message.
Today, the only splash of colour is a lovely memorial to Adrian and Mary Stoughton, erected in 1635. They face each other at a prayer desk, him in his BA gown, her in a ruff and hood. Below, there seven surviving children also kneel, some holding sculls in memory of the couple’s nine other offspring who died in infancy.
The inscriptions are poignant. Above Adrian it reads:
Let those alone set open
The floodgates of their eyes that have no hope;
If true report but will instruct thine eare,
Then ye can find no subject for a teare;
Death could not wound him, only clos’d his eye,
And made him dye to live, that lived to dye.
And over Mary:
She does but sleep, can she
That lives to Heaven, be counted dead to thee?
Her soule’s forsaken flesh may chance to lye
Rak’d up in dust; but virtue can not dye:
Tyr’d with ye world, she takes a soft repose,
To wake with joy, when ye loud trumpet blowes.