St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church Building
Built of Isle of Wight stone by Norman masons in the 1120s it was given by Henry 1 to Augustinian or Austin canons in 1133, Their head was a prior, their dress black, their vows traditional – of poverty, chastity and obedience – and their monastic buildings stretched from the south side of the church. No trace of these remain except the nine exits from their toilet facilities in the Roman wall; the small company moved to Southwick, a quieter location, within a few years. Austin canons left their monastic buildings to work as local parish priests, unlike monks. There were seven Austin houses in England.
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As you may see the building is of outstanding simplicity, a nave with traditional Norman arches and rounded windows in the north and south walls. The church houses a lively Christian community.
On your left at the west end is the medieval font of carved Caen limestone with Garden of Eden designs but with a modern base.
Nearby is a memorial to the distinguished naval physician Dr James Lind of C18th fame. Along the north wall is a large panel commemorating the gift of Queen Anne in 1710 of £400 to restore the church, badly damaged by hundreds of Danish prisoners in the mid C17th. Past the First World War memorial of some 33 men lost from the parish of 1,000 people is a small squint window allowing light onto the altar. The window is dedicated to Alfred Russell, captain of HMS Kenya who won the DSO commanding a convoy to relieve Malta in 1942.
The Elizabethan roof of the North Transept is the oldest in the church and here there is access to the three bells regularly rung on Sundays. In the chancel or presbytery can be seen the arched recesses above the seats of the canons. The Perpendicular style window was built into the C16th east wall; the new glass is a memorial to a naval son lost at Boulogne in 1914. The effigy, illustrated here, is of a Catholic courtier of Elizabethan and Jacobean times of Sir Thomas Cornwallis, in charge of court gambling, a constable and renovator of parts of the castle and a local farmer. He persuaded Elizabeth 1st for money to rebuild the South Transept, destroyed by years of weathering. He died in 1618. The altar has recently been moved forward with a temporary rail and the hassocks were embroidered to recall the 850th foundation of the church.
Finally the west wall houses a Victorian window ‘The Good Shepherd’ and the entrance, seen here, is of original scrolled pillars, rolled mouldings and medieval stonework – a favourite with photographers.
The churchyard contains 29 memorials by the Imperial War Graves Commission, the tomb of the naval artist William Lionel Wyllie ( 1851 – 1931 ) and a memorial garden. The lych gate (from the Anglo Saxon for a corpse) was renovated in modern times.