Thursday, 28 May 2009

Saint Andrew, Alfriston

Alfriston is the largest, best preserved and most touristy of all the villages in the Cuckmere Valley. It’s little High Street is thronged by traffic and tourists all year round. The parish church of Saint Andrew, however, seems to stand aloof from all this: standing on a bluff in a loop of the Cuckmere River, it dominates the spacious village green.

It was built in 1360, in the plan of a Greek cross, the architecture presenting perfectly the change from Decorated Gothic to Perpendicular: there are windows of both types throughout the church. The crossing piers have unusual concave sides and matching capitals. The Easter Sepulchre, Piscina and Sedilia are elaborate and full of ogee arches and gables.

What surprises most visitors first time, however, is its size: for a small village, this is one big church, which has won it the epithet 'the Cathedral of the Downs’. Although memorials are few, it has some superb stained glass: a mediaeval figure of Saint Alphege high in the north transept, and one by Kempe (1912) in the south. The bells date from 1390 onwards and, because of the central crossing tower, are rung from the floor of the church.

Once outside, admire the view: next door, in the care of the National Trust, is the Old Priest’s House and gardens, worth a visit in its own right.

The Tye, Alfrsiton, East Sussex BN26 5TL

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