Friday, 2 November 2007

St Olave, North Street, Chichester

Today, inner-city churches are usually hemmed in by shops, as though they were branches of CofE Boutiques or something. But they originally had their own churchyards, which were gradually built over as congregations moved out to the suburbs and the centre was taken over by commerce.
The little church of St Olave in North Street still has evidence of the loss of its surrounding burying ground. It entered today by the west door, but if you look to your right as you go in you will see a tall, narrow alcove that was the old Saxon south door. If you went though it today you would go straight into the bookies next door instead of the graveyard.
When it was built, sometime between 1030 and 1066, North Street would have been a narrow dirt track lined by a few thatched hovels. The church itself would have been a freestanding single room where the nave stands now.
The church as it appears today is mainly 14th century, with flint walls and a typical pointed west window with flowing tracery. The curved leaf-shapes in the tracery are called foils, so the circle in the top of the main window is a quatrefoil and the triangular blank window above is a trefoil. The pointy bits between the foils are cusps.
Gradually, North Street was widened until it reached the west door and the shops moved in on either side. Finally, the church itself has become a shop, albeit an SPCK bookshop. An annual service is held on St Olave’s Day - July 29.
But why St Olave? He is the patron saint of Norway, after all, having converted the country in the early 11th century, with no connection to Sussex. The answer is that Olave’s right hand man in the rather bloody missionary effort was a Saxon called Grimkell, who returned to England to become Bishop of Selsey. He founded the church, dedicating it to his friend and hero.