Southease, St Peter's Church
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 12th-century wall paintings
The East Sussex hamlet of Southease sits astride the South Downs Way National Trail a few miles south of Lewes. The trail runs directly through the village, and passes the ancient parish church, dedicated to St Peter.
St Peter's Church is one of very few in East Sussex built with a round tower. Two others also stand in the Ouse valley, at Lewes and Piddinghoe.
The first church at Southease was very likely erected in the Saxon period, perhaps as early as 966 AD when King Edgar gave a grant of land at Southease to the Abbey of St Peter at Winchester. Southease remained in the abbey's possession until it was suppressed by Henry VIII in 1538.
The oldest part of the present building is the nave, built in the 11th century. A round tower was added at the west end of the nave in the 12th century.
The church was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The dedication of that early church is unknown. The current dedication to St Peter is post-medieval and was probably adopted because of the church's historical links to St Peter's Abbey.
Another very early feature is a small round-headed window in the north-east corner of the nave. This window, now blocked, is consistent with a date of the 11th century.
The tower arch, which joins the tower to the nave, was inserted in the 13th century.
The Wall Paintings
The most interesting historical feature inside the church is a series of 12th-century wall paintings that adorn the north and west walls. These paintings were whitewashed in the early 17th century but were painstakingly restored in the 1930s.
The figures on the west wall depict Christ in Majesty, a traditional medieval theme. To Christ's right is an eagle, the symbol of St John, and an ox, the symbol of St Luke.
On the north wall, opposite the entrance, is a depiction of The Passion of Christ, starting with the entrance into Jerusalem and ending with the Crucifixion. This series of paintings is broken up by a pair of lancet windows that were inserted into the wall in the 19th century.
The entrance door is of 14th-century date. Immediately inside the door is a holy water stoup made from a Norman piscina. Over the door is a royal coat of arms to George III. Tucked into the south-west corner, between the doorway and the organ, is a blocked Norman window.
The organ dates to around 1790 and was made by Allen of Soho, London. It originally stood in St Anne's Church in Lewes.
In front of the organ is a 12th-century font. The font has clearly suffered damage, probably at the hands of religious iconoclasts during the Reformation.
In the sanctuary, beside the high altar, is the grave slab of John Willard, who served as rector of Southease from 1647-1673. The east window has stained glass installed in 1845 in memory of Ezekiel Harman by his son Reverend John Harman of Enfield. Father and son were both Lords of the Manor of Southease.
The communion table is the original Tudor one, made of oak. On the wall to the south of the table is a tablet commemorating Edmund Rose (d 1596). Rose served as the rector of Southease from 1577 until his death. Beneath the Rose memorial is a larger grave slab to Edward Boughen (d 1653).
Set in front of the chancel arch is a slab of Purbeck marble, discovered during church repairs in 1918. Flanking this slab are a pair of Jacobean box pews. The southernmost pew retains its original wooden door.
St Peter's Church is a delight. It is full of historical interest, but what really makes it so memorable is the idyllic setting above the triangular village green. This is a very special place.
Southease is on a minor road between Lewes and Newhaven. The church is well signposted and is impossible to miss, sitting as it does on the western edge of the village green.
Be aware! Parking is almost non-existent in Southease for visitors. If you can, find a safe lay-by and walk into the village.
About Southease, St Peter's Church
Address: Off C7 road, Southease, East Sussex, England, BN7 3HX
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On a minor road between Lewes and Newhaven. The church is situated on the western side of the village green. No dedicated parking.
Website: Southease, St Peter's Church
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Rodmell, St Peter's Church - 0.6 miles (Historic Church)
Monk's House - 0.6 miles (Historic Building)
Newhaven Museum - 2.6 miles (Museum)
Kingston-near-Lewes, St Pancras Church - 2.7 miles (Historic Church)
Anne of Cleves House - 2.8 miles (Historic Building)
Bull House - 3 miles (Historic Building)
Lewes Castle and Barbican House Museum - 3 miles (Castle)
Firle, St Peter's Church - 3.2 miles (Historic Church)
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