Friday, 27 September 2013

St Peter, East Marden

The basic structure of St Peter's church at East Marden has changed barely at all since it was first built in the early 13th century, when the parish was given to Chichester Cathedral.
The gift included some land to form a prebend, a sort of endowment that was used to pay priestly officials of the Cathedral. The idea was that the income would make them independent of the bishop and would also attract the younger sons of the nobility into the church. 
Of course, the prebendaries lived in the city close to their cathedral and had no time for parish work, so they would use part of the income from the prebend to employ a substitute called a vicarius, from the Latin for deputy, and that is where the word 'vicar' comes from.
The prebendary of East Marden clearly did not want to spend huge amounts of money on a church he rarely visited, so the structure is as simple as it could be, with just one room and no division between nave and chancel.
The windows are simple lancets, and instead of a tower there is a small bellcote supported by beams across the western end of the nave.
The church and village today have a timeless quality, sitting in a fold in the Downs that blocks out the noise of the modern world. The houses and church huddle round an ancient well with a thatched roof, the only source of water until as late as 1924.
The only changes were to the church's interior. The Victorians decided to make the chancel more distinct from the nave, covering the walls with panelling and boarding the roof. But their biggest crime was to tidy away the accumulated character of 500 years of history.