Thursday, 11 June 2009

St Mary, Bepton

Bepton church sits under the Downs south of Midhurst as though immortal, but it has changed remarkably over the millennium since the first Christians in the area built the church mentioned in the Domesday Book.
The church was completely rebuilt in the 13th century with a simple but unusual plan: a west tower, a nave without aisles and a chancel the same width as the nave but separated from it by an arch (usually, if the chancel is the same width as the nave there is no arch).
There was trouble from the very start, as can be deduced from the fact that the walls of the tower are over three feet thick, but the tower is only as high as the roof ridge. Why were the walls so substantial for so short a tower?
It is believed that the original plan was for a much taller tower, but it began to subside during construction so the builders stopped as soon as they reached roof height, simply topping it off with a plain pyramidal roof.
Later, in about 1620, the tower began to lean again and it was shored up with two massive diagonal buttresses of brick. They have the effect of making it look even squatter.
In 1878 the north wall of the nave, the whole chancel and the south porch were all rebuilt by Lacy W. Ridge, so little of the 13th century remains. Little, except for one feature that is worth going to see in itself.
The tomb of one Rado de la Hedol is set in a niche with a lovely stone canopy dating from about 1300, as the Early English style morphed into the Decorated. The canopy has a ‘roof’ topped by a finial that in the Early English period would have consisted of formal, stiff leaves but this finial looks more like a bunch of shallots in a rubber band.
The crockets up the sides are all of different sizes, flame-like rather than leaf-like. The space under, known as the tympanum, is filled with cusped tracery. The composition is bold and vivid. Rado’s name and a worn brass plate carries an inscription in Lombardic letters calling for the Lord to have mercy on him (probably).