Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Holy Sepulchre, Warminghurst

Most churches are the result of centuries of getting the builders in, adding aisles, rebuilding chancels, replacing the roof and so on, but Warminghurst has only been altered once since it was built in the 13th century, in the reign of Queen Anne. Even the Victorians, who ruined many a fine church by over-restoration, left Warminghurst alone.
From the outside, it looks like a simple one-room church from about 1220, with lancet windows and a little spire at the west end.
Step inside and you are instantly taken forward to about 1700, when James Butler, the local landowner, refurnished the interior in a simple but elegant English baroque style.
Overhead, the medieval single-frame roof extends from one end to the other, creating an illusion of length. It must have seemed even longer  before the 18th century carpenters inserted the wooden chancel screen with three arches on slim columns.The semicircular space under the roof, called a tympanum, is exuberantly painted with the arms of Queen Anne, with drapery swirling about. In the chancel, the communion rails were given elegant barley-twist balusters.
In front of the screen stands the plain panelled pulpit with the clerk's seat below. The clerk must have been a big man in every sense - the seat has enough room for two normal-size clerks. All the box pews with their doors still survive, showing by their size and position the social status of the occupants.
The 18th century update even went as far as the font, which is a simple bulbous eight-sided stem.
Warminghurst sits in the middle of the South Downs with only a farmhouse for company, and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The upside of this is that nobody will now be tempted to meddle with this magical building.