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St. Andrew's Church (Alfriston)

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Historical church dating back to 1360.

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      02.04.2012 20:15
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      A welcoming church

      ST ANDREW'S CHURCH, ALFRISTON, SUSSEX On a recent visit to the East Sussex village of Alfriston, I was keen to have a good look at the church. Before visiting I had looked on-line at photographs of the church and I wondered if it would look as impressive in 'real life' as it appeared in these images. After visiting I can say that, in my opinion, it did. I know very little about architecture in any form, church or otherwise, and I won't pretend to be knowledgeable in this area so, please bear with me as I merely try to describe my thoughts of both the interior and exterior of this church and hopefully explain things properly. Fortunately the weather behaved for us on the Saturday afternoon; the sun shone as if to welcome us as we walked the few minutes from our hotel on Alfriston High Street. We cut through a lane leading to the church. There wasn't much to see until reaching the end where everything opens up wonderfully as St Andrew suddenly appears in all its splendour. THE CHURCH ON THE TYE It was, for my husband and for me, a first visit, although my son and his fiancée (Sussex lass) had visited several times. My son smiled knowingly as the church came into view. The church sits upon a gentle slope, not steep enough to call a hill, from this side of the church at least, commanding the view. It's really the epitome of all an old English village church should be, although in truth it is larger and probably grander than many village churches. Its unmarred vista really is a sight for sore eyes. St Andrew is the heart; it seemed to me, of this village. Approaching the church we walked on the pathway. The walk was an easy one for us, but for those with mobility problems the church can be reached by road and then only a short walk to the entrance is necessary. Wheelchairs and pushchairs can be pushed along the path and the incline is gradual. I did appreciate the fact that there were few cars in sight to spoil the view leaving us free to admire the look of the church and surrounding area as well as to 'feel' the history of this piece of England. Around the low stone walls of the church wall are dotted many welcoming benches. This Church of England place of worship was built in 1360 and it sits on The Tye (village green) by the river Cuckmere. It is built in Cruciform (in the shape of a cross) which I believe is not uncommon in Church of England churches, although at certain times in history some would be of a plainer style. St. Andrew came to be known as the "Cathedral of the Downs" as it is rather a large and grand church for the small number of inhabitants of the area at the time. It has a spire and steeple. On reading about this it seems as if the reason why it was built still remains something of a puzzle. A mystery because of its size and style (115 feet in length and 70 feet wide) and because it seems to have been built in one go (apart from modern day adaptations such as a door for wheelchair access and toilets inside) and this is, apparently, unusual in ancient churches. Community churches, I understand, were largely built up gradually with important additions and changes over the years, but in the case of this church this isn't so. Or the building of a church would often be 'sponsored' by a local dignitary or nobleman and a tomb or some kind of commemoration would exist in the church to this person or family, but again this isn't the case. For more information: http://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/local/ why-exactly-was-st-andrew-s-church-built We walked around the church and, as the grounds are well kept and, I felt, visitor friendly, this was pleasant and easy. I noticed a sign saying that wheelchair access was provided via a side door. We passed this more modern addition to the church as we made our way around the exterior going anti clockwise. We passed old graves with spring flowers pushing through the grass in between. I thought that there must be many residents of the village of Alfriston, whose families had, for generations, breathed their first and last breath in the village and so would have been baptised in St. Andrew's, attended Sunday school and church services, wedded here and finally been laid to rest in the peaceful ground of the church near to their kin. If I had been born in a village such as this rather than a London girl, would I have moved to pastures new? A little further and to the rear of the church one looks down the green grassy slopes to see that the area surrounding the church is still a final resting place. As resting places go it's a beautiful one. Although the surrounding area of St. Andrew seemed to me to be peaceful one can see that both villagers and visitors enjoy the beauty of the area; many walkers with and without canine friends enjoy the Sussex Downs. From the rear of the church one can look ahead and see the scenic beauty of the downs. It's a lovely unspoilt view of a piece of England which I'm sure hasn't changed too much over the centuries. We arrived, full circle, to the front of the church via a not too rough path. We entered the church. A WELCOME INSIDE On entering the church I expected to feel overawed but strangely, I didn't. I felt comfortable. Its great age was clearly evident and to be respected, yet I found this church to be welcoming and the word that sprang to my mind was 'unpretentious.' We passed the font and near here were guide leaflets and picture postcards sold by the friends of St Andrew's to help with the upkeep of the church, which must indeed be costly. We saw the visitor's book open for all to sign and comment if they wished, and we walked to the front of the church. We looked at the displays naming those villagers who served in wars. I saw my own maiden name among these but don't know if this was a relative although I suppose in the distant past it was likely there was a link. Steps lead to a gallery which looked as if it were used as a quiet area with books around and perhaps for Sunday school or a withdrawing area for young children, as there were some toys kept here. The sun was still shining outside and it kindly sent its rays though the stained glass windows which could be seen in all their majesty. Treading along the stone floor on either side were traditional wooden pews with kneeling cushions made by hand. Then I noticed the chancel and I thought it was unusual that the church bells could be seen here in the centre of the building; I don't remember often seeing church bells placed in this position in a church before. The transepts (arms of the cross) crossed the chancel both north and south (I hope I have explained this correctly) and these arms of the church, or cross, house extra pews and what appeared to me to be a meeting area, and, I believe, some facilities. The lectern (to rest the bible upon) was to be seen with its ornate golden eagle which I understand signifies that Christians must respect their holy bible. Nearby was the pulpit. Further along the main body can be seen the choir stalls and the church organ. Beyond the choir stalls is the all-important altar. I felt that the church was lovingly well kept both inside and out and it must play a highly important part in the lives of many villagers. THE BELLS St Andrew has a central tower. It is fairly unusual in churches to see the bells being rung from the chancel crossing. Six bells hang in the tower. Here is some further information relating to the bells: http://www.achurchnearyou.com/ A LIVING CHURCH St Andrews is a 'living church.' Regular services are held here by Reverend James Howson. These are held at eight a.m. and eleven a.m. There is also an evening service. Holy Communion services are held every first second third and fourth Sunday at 8:00 AM We decided (six in our party) to attend the eleven o'clock service in St Andrew's and so when we had finished our breakfast at The Star Inn in the village we walked cross to the church as the peal of the six bells of St Andrew's called us to prayer. The walk is less than five minutes from most of the small 'High Street' which was just as well because the weather wasn't as clement as it had been the day before; the roads around were quickly filling with muddy puddles. As we entered the church we were given a hymn book and order of service. We chose a pew and soon joined in the singing of the first hymn, 'Praise my soul the king of heaven.' The service was interesting albeit a rather formal one, perhaps due to this being the first Sunday of Lent. I enjoyed hearing the choir sing and listening to the accompanying organist. Tea and coffee were offered after the service but we had to depart after a few words with Reverend Howson. FRIENDS OF ST ANDREW'S An organisation to help preserve this unique church was set up in 1996. The church can be hired for musical events. It, being an old church, is pleasing in an acoustic sense so a lovely venue for concerts. FURTHER INFORMATION St Andrew is under the diocese of Chichester. The church is normally open to visitors every day from 9.00am to 5.00pm or dusk every day. Apart from church services, St Andrew's offers: Disabled access with a ramp and disabled accessible toilets Large print hymn/order of service books. Hearing induction loop The church has a small kitchen and also has facilities such as toilets. Hire of church LOCATION The Tye Alfriston East Sussex BN26 5TL St Andrew is in the small, East Sussex village, by the South Downs. It is within easy reach of Brighton and Eastbourne. We travelled from Essex and travelled from the M25 and A26, A27 and A22. Polegate station is about three and a half miles from St Andrew or 10 minutes by car. Mainline trains run from London Victoria to Polegate.

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