St Mary's Church
with its unique Saxon Rhenish helm tower
At the gateway to the heart and the narrowest point of the South Downs National Park, just above the Saxon shoreline, there stands this beautiful church, unique in England. Its tower looks east to Seaford Head, and west to the Isle of Wight. Click on the image above to watch a drone filmed video of the church in its landscape, by Sompting based company Airview .
was built with flints gathered out of the fields to spare the plough. The huge craggy flints interlock so that they would hold together even without the weather-dressing, of mortar made from the downland chalk.
This landmark church has drawn and fascinated many generations of Sussexians, locals, visitors, historians and artists. It is the perfect place to celebrate what we love of the Downs, among others who have loved them then and now. Click here to find out more about the Parish and Friends of Sompting Church.
From the whapple lane behind the Church, known as Love Lane, a footpath takes you up to the top of the Nore Hill. By the time you get to the top you have left behind the traffic noise and instead you now hear the larks and the livestock. Below you lies the Downs Barn in its coombe, and before you, over the valley between Cissbury and Steepdown Hills, stretches a glorious view to the horizon of the north scarp, Chanctonbury rising over Park Brow.
West Sussex's 'Cathedral of the Downs'
This title has also been claimed by the medieval parish church in Alfriston, but (without any disrespect to the beautiful church at Alfriston or its people), we think Sompting has the greater claim to the title. Sompting is the iconic Saxon building, incorporating several more centuries of the downland communities' story, and imposingly situated on downland slopes in the centre of the South Downs. It is rich in history, with stories to tell of ancient knights and distant crusades, as well as of the village below and the farmland around it.
It stands cut off by the A27 Sompting Bypass from most of its ancient village community, and will continue to be cut off until an enlightened public authority makes the road crossing safer and easier. Meanwhile its isolation from its old village gives all the more prominence to its other persona: as the Saxon cathedral of the Downs.
To be sure, no Bishops have had their seats in this 'cathedral', whose church status is really that of a parish church under the diocese of Chichester. But for downsmen it may be called a 'Cathedral of the Downs' with honour and pride. Its crooks were not borne by Bishops, but by the shepherds and farmers of the downs, who were baptized, wed and buried here for over 1000 years, and who have made the landscape of the Downs what it is.
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