Tuesday, 17 February 2015

St Nicolas, Old Shoreham

In Norman times Old Shoreham was an important port owned by the de Broase family, so they built a large and ornate church.
But the shifting course of the River Adur took the trade downstream and today the church looks surprisingly imposing in the cluster of ordinary cottages that forms the village today.
The glory of the church is the crossing tower, built in about 1140. The bell-chamber is marked on the outside by a line of three round arches on each face, the central one framing a double light. Above, a pair of bullseye windows let the sound the bells emerge.
Inside, the arches that support the tower are copy-book examples of the Norman style, with round concentric arches - the inner, plain arch was built first so it became the formwork for the arch above and so on. The next arch is carved with 'cable' and the next with zig-zag, one of the most instantly recognisable Norman ornaments.
The outermost arch is decorated with rosettes and shells including limpets, symbol of fortitude.
On the nave arch, the keystone is carved with a lovely cat, ears pricked up. Inside the crossing vault, the ribs are supported by stone heads, curiously elongated in a way that suggests the mason may have been French.
The columns supporting the arches mostly have typically-Norman cushion capitals, simply carved in bulbous shapes. Two, however, have been given images of men being swallowed by snakes - all you can see is their heads, with the jaws of the serpent open wide beneath and its body curving away behind. The men look understandably peeved.
Despite this lavish decoration, the builder had an economical streak - the arches are plain on the back where only the clergy would see them.