Saturday, 31 May 2008

St Mary the Virgin, Aldingbourne

Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't date a church by its exterior.The outside of any building takes the brunt of centuries of wind, rain and ice while the inside remains snug and protected. So it is unsurprising that when the Victorians went to work restoring churches, the exteriors were often almost entirely renewed.
At Aldingbourne, the outside got a more than usually thorough going over in 1867 when just about all of the stonework was replaced. Even after nearly 150 years the Victorian stone is hard and sharp-edged.
Inside, however, much softer stones have survived more or less unchanged since they were carved in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the nave, simple Early English round columns with scalloped caps support plain pointed arches, and the faint outlines of medieval wall paintings can be traced on the walls.
But there are two rather grander survivals from Aldingbourne's unsuspected past. The Bishops of Chichester had a palace here from early times until the Civil War, when it was assaulted by Parliamentary troops and was afterwards abandoned.
The occasional presence of the Bishop might explain the ornate twin sedilia, or stone seats, in the chancel. The canopy has two pointed arches with carved priest’s heads at each end. In the middle, the arches are supported by a corbel stone carved with two layers of the pyramid-shaped ornaments known as dog-tooth.
At the end of the south aisle is a chapel, located where a transept would be in a much larger church. Despite its small size, it has lovely stone vaulting with lines of dog-tooth along its ribs, and the columns have beautifully carved capitals, one crocketed and the other the characteristic Early English 'stiff leaf' ornament.
The vault looks just like part of Chichester Cathedral magically relocated four miles eastward. Indeed, it is probable that the Bishop brought cathedral masons in to carve both the vault and the sedillia.
A curious feature of the church is the memorial window to Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Skelton, who sailed to the Antarctic with Scott and served in submarines in the First World War. It must be the only stained glass window anywhere to feature both a penguin and a submarine.
Further down the south aisle is another naval window, this time in memory of Judith, widow of Adml Sir Sidney Meyrick. At the bottom right hand corner, a lovely little brig bowls along, with terns swooping behind.