Thursday, 2 April 2009

St Peter, Southease

Southease is a lovely place. Hidden by trees off a minor road linking Lewes and Newhaven, this tiny village has to be searched for, rather than found. Remarkably, it has a railway station, a mile's walk away, across the lovely valley of the River Ouse. On a perfect day in high summer, it is tranquility itself.

The village church was first mentioned in a charter of King Edgar, in 966 AD. The nave walls are the oldest parts of the church, and may even date from before the Norman conquest, but its unusual round tower dates from around 1150. The tower has a conical roof - more castle than church - tiled with chestnut shingles. It contains two old bells - one dating from 1280.

Over the years, the church lost its original chancel and aisles - possibly due to the devastation wrought by the Black Death. A new chancel was formed by adding a lath-and-plaster wall and arch in the nave, giving the interior a simple, almost homely feel. The walls have rather faint fragments of 13th century wall paintings, dating from between 1250 and 1300. The clearest show Christ in majesty, the eagle of St John and the ox of St Luke.

For such a remote spot, the parishioners managed to find the funds for a small but impressive organ to be installed. Dating from 1790, and it is a fine piece of 18th-century craftsmanship. Other ancient elements include the font (12th century) and even the door (14th century). The village must have been much larger then to afford such things but, judging by the lovely flowers decorating it on my last visit, is no less loved to-day.

The church is close to the South Downs long-distance footpath. A detour must surely be an essential pilgrimage?

Southease, near, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 3HX

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