Thursday, 16 October 2008

St Mary, Stoughton

The Saxo-Norman Overlap sounds like a patent galosh but is the term used by architectural historians for churches built in the short period after 1066 when Saxons were doing the work but Normans were giving the orders. At this point, churches were still built with the big, box-like proportions the Saxons liked, but details such as arches became bigger and more ornate to cater to the Romanesque tastes of the new overlords.
The process is seen at work particularly vividly at Bosham and Stoughton, ironically as both places were owned by King Harold until his death at Hastings.
St Mary at Stoughton is a complete late 11th century church, with no aisles but transepts to the north and south. The proportions are tall and the walls are thin at only 2ft 5in, indicating an originally Saxon design, but the chancel arch is early Norman with its triple columns and roll mouldings.
The chancel used to be almost as tall as the nave but in the 14th century somebody decided to give it a wagon roof rather than the original beam and low-pitched rafters still evident in the nave.
At the same time, the chancel windows were enlarged and embellished with attached columns, but the new lower roof meant there was no space for the arched tops of the north and south windows, so they were simply chopped off. The original shape can still be seen in the east window. The Victoria County History says that it is quite possible the builder simply did not realise that the new roof would cut off the tops of the windows and truncated effect is the result.
The church contains very few monuments, which adds to the open, uncluttered feel of the tall open rooms.
There is a simple brass plate to Philip Harwood Francis, vicar from 1957 to 1997, who is described as an “athlete teacher mathematician author eccentric and master of the short sermon.”
In the north transept there is a particularly attractive basin for washing the communion vessels, called a piscina. It was made in the middle-13th century. The trefoil arch has dog-tooth ornament running round underneath and a lovely little head, full of life, at either end.