The basic shape of East Dean church is unaltered from the time of its construction between the middle of the 12th century to the first part of the 13th. The cross shape with the tower at the middle is still there, with the impressive south door with its columns and multiple arches.
A north aisle was added in the 14th century and later removed, leaving only the traces of an arch visible in the outside wall. A wooden spire came and went.
The tower arches were beefed up with segmental curves at some point, and it is said the tops of the original medieval pointed arches are still visible above the plaster ceiling in the crossing.
The basic plan even survived the Victorians, who in 1870 brought in not one but two architects. The rector, who was responsible for the chancel, employed the nationally-known Ewan Christian, but the parishioners, who had to pay for the rest, got John Marshall, a local builder who was presumably much cheaper. Fortunately, although much of the stonework was replaced or sharpened up, they did not interfere too much.
A pair of lovely 18th century gravestones in the churchyard nicely illustrate two contrasting approaches to memorialising death. One is covered with symbols of mortality – a skull, a funerary urn and what looks like a bell. The other has symbols of the afterlife – the rays of God's glory, two cherubs and bunches of grapes.
It would be lovely to know if the first was erected to the gloomy old pessimist of the village, and the other to the local sunny optimist.