St Andrews church, Alfriston
St Andrews church, Alfriston

St Andrew's church stands on high ground beside Alfriston's thatched 14th-century parsonage, the first property purchased by the National Trust. The church itself dates to around 1370, a strangely late date for this part of Sussex. It stands beside the Tye, a large green that may have served as a market in medieval times. In 1399 the church was granted to Michelham Priory.

The church is built on a small mound, surrounded by a flint wall, suggesting that the site was a sacred place in the pre-Christian period. The sheer scale of the church has led to its moniker, 'The Cathedral of the Downs'. The church seems to have been built in one go, also unusual, at a time when most churches evolved slowly over centuries.

There is no indication of who built the church, and indeed, Alfriston did not even have a lord of the manor at the time. All of which raises the question of why a small village without even a lord of the manor should have such a large and impressive church.

Looking from the crossing into the chancel
Looking from the crossing into the chancel

Because the church was built at the one time, it is an excellent example of late 14th-century architecture. Like most Sussex churches, it is built of knapped flint, with greensand stone for quoins. The roof was originally topped with Horsham stone, but that proved too heavy and was replaced by clay tiles.

The layout is very simple; a cruciform plan with a central tower and no aisles. The nave and chancel are the same length, though the transepts are shorter, creating a traditional cross shape.

One of the best features of St Andrew's is the timber roof, built to a crown-post design. Most of the roof is original 13th-century work, save only the south transept.

The 14th-century triple sedilia
The 14th-century triple sedilia

On the north side of the chancel is an Easter Sepulchre, within which is a chest tomb. Atop the tomb are carved stone figures that originally decorated the 19th-century reredos over the high altar. On the north wall of the nave is a funeral hatchment to Richard Vincent (d. 1733). Under the gallery stairs is an old bell, cast in 1587.

The font may be older than the church, but is at least 14th century, and is set atop a later base. There is a royal coat of arms to George I, dated 1725, There are 3 piscinas, one in the chancel and one in each transept. All are 14th century. Also 14th century, and my pick of the historic furnishings, is the triple-seat sedilia in the chancel.

The sedilia is separated with three octagonal shafts rising to round-headed arches, with beautifully carved finials centred on each arch. The sedilia stands directly opposite the Easter Sepulchre, and was probably carved at the same time.

The 1725 royal coat of arms
The 1725 royal coat of arms

The church contains a very pleasing mix of medieval and relatively modern glass. In the former category is the north window in the north transept, which contains 14th-century glass depicting a pair of saints, one of whom may be St Alphege. The south transept contains windows by Charles Eamer Kempe (look for Kempe's familiar wheatsheaf symbol).

On the wall of the south porch is a canonical sundial, probably created in the 14th century. Such sundials were not used specifically to tell the time of day, but to tell when religious ceremonies should take place.

St Andrews is a beautiful historic church in one of the prettiest and most historically interesting villages in East Sussex. The church is usually open daylight hours and is well worth a visit, especially if you visit te Clergy House nearby.

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About Alfriston, St Andrew's Church
Address: The Tye, Alfriston, East Sussex, England, BN26 5TL
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: Directly beside the National Trust's Alfriston Clergy House. The signposted village parking area is quite close. Usually open daylight hours.
Location map
OS: TQ521030
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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