Tuesday, 7 April 2009

St Mary, Climping

It's the tower that makes Climping so memorable. It is tall, square, solid and Norman, and placed in an unusual position at the end of the south transept, so everyone assumes it was intended as some sort of fortification.
Some say it was a watch tower to give early warning of invaders coming up the River Arun, others that it was a sort of safe haven for parishioners.
The impression is reinforced by the curious pair of slots on either side of the ornately-carved door, which look as though they were intended to support the ends of a drawbridge. Unfortunately, there are no holes for the chains that would have been necessary to haul it up, so they must be ornamental.
The tower was added to the original Saxon church in about 1180, when Henry II was busy enlarging Arundel Castle so it is possible it might have had some military function. Today, it is the extraordinary ornament that attracts attention.
The round Norman arch over the main door is has a pair of massive cusps on the inside, then lines of chevrons and zigzags creating a rich and memorable effect.
On the first floor, the lancet windows are also framed in thick zigzag mouldings that are almost too big to get round the top comfortably.
The church itself was rebuilt in about 1230, probably by the rector, John of Climping, who later became Bishop of Chichester. It is a total contrast with the tower, in a strict Early English style relying on proportions rather than ornament for its effect. Magically, it remains almost unaltered to this day and has been recently restored so it looks fabulous.
The windows are tall, plain lancets, and the arches have simple roll mouldings that are models of elegance compared with the exuberant Norman carving on the tower. It is amazing how radically tastes had changed in just 50 years.
The artist Heyward Hardy gave a number of paintings to the church in the 1920s. This one shows local people including the rector and war wounded, with Christ at the centre blessing the children.