Saturday, 13 February 2010

St Mary the Virgin, Shipley

Shipley church looks like a cross-shaped church that has lost its transepts, having just a nave and a chancel with a tower in the middle.
But this rather odd-looking layout was quite common in about 1125 when it was built - there are other examples in Surrey and Norfolk. You can see it was originally built without transepts by looking at the south wall and observing the way the nave and the tower are one structure.
The round-headed windows are a clue to the date, being splayed both inside and out. Later windows are usually splayed only on the inside.
Inside, the massive arches of the tower form a dramatic frame to the chancel, which is quite short. The western arch is no less than 8ft thick, but it is possible that the tower was originally built with two matching arches but started to subside just when it was finished, forcing the builders to add an extra reinforcing arch. The new arch is supported on two grimacing devilish faces with hungry-looking teeth, a warning to the sinful not to venture into the holy place, perhaps.
It is a large and imposing church for such a small village as Shipley, but it was built not as a parish church but as the chapel of the Sussex preceptory or local headquarters of the Knights Templar.
No traces of the associated administrative and monastic buildings survive. Shipley had been given to the Templars by the de Broase family of Bramber Castle, together with Sompting.