Sunday, 31 July 2011

St Mary the Virgin, Upwaltham

The church at Upwaltham is an amazing survival, almost unaltered from when it was built in the 12th century.
Its location away from any big settlement meant that there was never pressure to extend it or money to restore it, but its position close to the Chichester to Petworth road meant that it never fell into disuse and decay as many more remote churches did.
It was a jolly close run thing, though. From 1833 to '51 the rector of Upwaltham and neighbouring East Lavington was the dynamic high churchman Henry Manning, later one of Britain's most high profile converts to Catholicism, second Archbishop of Westminster and a cardinal. He had East Lavington church so brutally restored and extended barely any original features survive today.
Luckily, he never got round to 'beautifying' Upwaltham. Perhaps he just liked it the way it was – in in later life he described the church and its downland setting as "only less beautiful then heaven."
Standing alone, halfway up the hill, the church is a simple rectangle with an apsidal chancel. Unusually, there is no east window. Instead, there are windows on either side. The chancel arch is 13th century (the 12th century arch would have been considerably narrower).
The beams of the kingpost roof may also be original, another unusual survival given the dangers of rot and fire over the centuries.
In the chancel the piscina or basin for washing the communion vessels is ornately carved with spirals called volutes. It is possible that it came from Chichester Cathedral.