Thursday, 9 April 2009

St Michael, Amberley

Amberley is picture-postcard Sussex. Situated on a wooded slope above the river Arun, it is all pretty cottages, gardens and thatch.

It was also the location of a castle, owned by the Bishops from nearby Chichester as a hunting lodge and retreat. Although there are references to the lands at Amberley being granted to the Bishop in 670AD, there is no mention of a church here in the Domesday book in 1086. The Bishops' Castle still stands next to the church, and is now an award-winning - and appropriately expensive - luxury Country House hotel.

The church was also built by the Bishops, and this patronage is reflected in the size and slendour of the building. It is thought that the Nave was built by Bishop Luffa around 1140, and the chancel and South Aisle were added around 1230 by Bishop Ralph Neville.

The interior is completely dominated by the chancel arch. This is a stunning exposition of the Norman style: row upon row of zig-zag carving covers the sides and underneath of the arch, supported by robust smooth-leaf capitals. Decorated capitals also adorn the large Norman windows in the north and west walls.

In contrast, the chancel is a more sophisticated space, the East end adorned with three Early-English lancet windows. In the 14th Century, a south porch was added, with oak-leaf capitals, and the Norman north door partially filled in. Both the nave and chancel have impressive exposed beam ceilings with king-post trusses.

Some other elements are also of interest: to the south of the chancel arch are 12-13th century wall-paintings, depicting scenes from the life of Christ. The font dates from around 1140, and in the south aisle is a brass to John Wantele, the local MP, who died in 1424. He is shown in splendid 15th century plate armour, with a decorated surcoat. A replica is located next to the font for those interested in brass rubbing.

Outside, the churchyard is dominated by the walls of the castle. The wall is pierced with a door, through which the Bishops presumably walked to the church: it is named in honour of the most illustrious of their number, St Richard of Chichester.

Church Street, Amberley, near Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9NF

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