This is a brief introduction to the beautiful church of St Mary, West Chiltington. If you wish to know more, please visit the church and purchase one of the guide books which will give you more information.
The Doomsday Book records of Cilletone, the Saxon name for West Chiltington, state that 'There is a Church'. This must refer to a Saxon church already in existence, but whether any part of this earlier building was incorporated into the present Norman building must remain a matter for speculation. The current church was built between 1100 and 1150, with the Chantry Chapel being built in the 14th century and the spire added in 1602, making it the most modern part of the building. The roof is of Horsham stone, and the roof timbers inside were originally covered by a plaster ceiling. When they were uncovered the timbers were found to be so hard that it was very difficult to drill into them.
Entering the church through the glazed outer doors, you will be in the porch, reputed to be one of the oldest churches in Sussex. Some of the woodwork is attributed to the 12th century and contains some elaborately carved blocks which may have been moved from the original South Door arch. The original bell clappers are mounted on the wall on the right as you enter the porch. Sadly the bells are no longer pealed, due to the weakness of the spire. From the North Door, you will step down into the main body of the church. The chief influence upon its present character must have been the erection of a gallery in the West end of the Nave and you can still see the line on the North wall above the War Memorial.
To give a clear view of the Altar, the Nave floor was lowered 12 inches and the Norman arch into the Chancel heightened into Perpendicular form. The West end gallery was removed during a restoration in 1880 and the frescos were uncovered in 1882. (See more below)
Returning to the crossing and looking east, you can see the Chancel and East window. The East Window above the Altar is the only staind glass in the church. To the left of the Chancel arch is the pulpit, with oak linenfold panelling, which dates back to the mid 17th century. It was originally placed in a church in Worthing. The brass hooks in the Chancel arch were for the old bells ropes which used to hang down in the centre of the church.
Moving up the stairs into the Chancel, there are several memorials to past rectors and their families. The altar, made of Sussex 'Winkle' stone, was demolished in obedience to an Act of Parliament in 1548. The polished stone top, however, was hidden beneath the floor and forgotten. It was re-discovered in the 1960s, restored and, with new supports, was once more put into use. The centre window in the North wall of the Chancel is one of the two original Norman windows. In the south-western corner of the Chancel is found the Hagioscope. This is a rare feature in churches and this example is exceptionally long, running from the South Aisle to the Chancel. It has often erroneously been called a 'Leper's Squint', but these were cut into an outside wall as lepers were not allowed inside the church. The purpose of this hagioscope was to provide a view of the celebrant to someone standing in the South Aisle.
To the south of the Chancel is found the Lady Chapel, housing a small altar and the organ. The organ is a three manual Makin and was installed in April 2016. Through a small door in the South wall you may find the WC and a lobby. Moving west from the organ, the current bell-ringing system is found. There are 5 bells and the earliest dates from 1470. By pulling on the wire the clapper strikes the bell, rather than the bell swinging. Halfway down the south wall is the door to the original Vicar's Vestry.
The outstanding feature of St Mary's Church is the wall paintings. They were uncovered in 1882, when their colouring was brilliant. In 1931 they were treated by Professor Tristram and more recently preservation work has been carried out by Mrs E. Baker and the paintings should be of interest for many years to come. The oldest decorative works are the crude patterns which represent the first attempts to decorate the walls of the church. Of these, the only item of interest is the circular medallion in the recess over the east end of the South Aisle. The central design of a cross in the form of an endless rope knot is similar to that found in the Roman tessellated pavement in the British palace at Fishbourne. The same form of cross is also to be found on the walls of the Roman catacombs at Salzburg, Austria. The earliest pictorial paintings can be found in the South Aisle and are probably nearly as old as the church itself. At the apex of the soffit of the arch is a small aureole supported by two angels emerging from clouds. Below, on either side, are two Apostles in adoration. On the face of the arch are two censing angels, afterwards covered by two others blowing trumpets. This is all 12th century work. On the walls of the south and north walls of the Nave can be found examples of 13th century pictorial fresco work. On the south wall are scenes from the Passion and on the north are Nativity scenes. These are described in the guide booklet available in the Church. 14th century work is found in the oak-leaf designs on the easternmost pillar of the Arcade and in the decoration on the soffits of the arches. The most outstanding work of this period is the figure of Our Lord in the splay of the north window of the Nave. There are two watercolours mounted on the North wall of the church, showing the paintings as they were when they were uncovered.
This is only a small snapshot of St Mary's Church and cannot do justice to the church - please come and visit to see the beauty of this church for yourself.