The church’s history is both long and complex: the first church on the site was erected around 770AD, and that this or a replacement was destroyed by the Vikings during a raid between 950 and 1010. It was rebuilt in stone during the reign of King Canute, and again by the Normans around 1150. A south aisle was added around 1175-1200, with the chancel, north tower and the Lady Chapel dating from the 13th century.
From the outside, the squat tower with its pyramidal cap seems almost detached, and the sizeable Lady Chapel – much wider and taller than the aisle - makes reading the south side equally challenging. Inside, the aisle arcade of four bays comprises the most basic of pointed arches, crudely cut into the wall. The piers are alternately round and octagonal, with strange capitals mixing foliage and corner volutes, not helped by being whitewashed. The aisle itself is determinedly modest in scale. Entirely different is the two-bay arcade separating the chancel and impressive Lady Chapel; although anachronistically having round arches, this is a fine piece of 13th century work, with a central pier of Purbeck marble and sophisticated mouldings. The chancel itself has an attractive pair of Early English windows, renewed in the 19th century.
The church’s furnishings are of particular interest. The choir stalls contain two Tudor misericords from the 16th century, and the altar rails date to around 1600. In the Lady Chapel is a 13th century coffin lid with a crude Bishop’s staff, locally reputed to be connected with St Richard of Chichester, who had a residence close by. In the sanctuary are two tomb recesses connected with William Ernley (d. 1545). The larger recess commemorates his first wife, Elizabeth (d. 1528), and dates from around 1530-35. Gothic in style, it has carvings depicting the Resurrection. Adjacent is William’s tomb, erected by his second wife, this time with scenes depicting the Annunciation and Christ showing his wounds. This later tomb contains both Renaissance and Gothic elements.
Other items worth looking out for are the crude Saxon tub font, a small piece of Saxon carving framed in the Lady Chapel, and the delightfully rustic pews (a mixture of 16th century originals and Victorian copies) with Fleurs-de-Lis poppy-heads.
Pound Road, West Wittering, Chichester, West Sussex PO20 8AJ www.wwbichurches.org