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St Michael, Amberley, Sussex

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Feature Sets (4)

Description

Amberley church comprises a W tower, a nave with a 13thc. S aisle, and a square-ended chancel.

History

The Bishops of Chichester had a residence here, probably before the Conquest. In 1086 no church is mentioned at Amberley, but William the Cleric held 2 hides of the manor, and Alred the Priest 3 hides. See also entry for Amberley Castle.

According to a contemporary account the font was: 'removed in 1864 (and) found to be in more than a dozen pieces'. It was reported that 'stone slabs have been introduced under the bowl and at base, and four cylindrical shafts of Purbeck or Forest marble substituted for wooden pillars' (Clarkson, 231).

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

Nave N doorway

Round headed, three orders. The lower part of the doorway has been blocked to convert it into a window. First order, plain and continuous. Second order originally contained en-delit nook shafts (both lost) on high, attic bases (upper part of E base lost). The shafts may have carried capitals and impost blocks. In the arch is a fat nook roll. Third order has plain jambs, hollow chamfered impost blocks with a groove at the bottom of the face, and plain arch. There is no label.

Dimensions
h. of opening 2.74 m
w. of opening 1.07 m

Windows

Nave N wall, E window

E capital: smooth pointed leaves on the angles; two nested Vs in centre of each face.

W capital: smooth pointed leaves on the angles; fanning triple leaf motif in centre of each face.

Nave N wall, W window

E capital: smooth pointed leaves on the angles; fanning triple leaf motif in centre of each face.

W capital: very shallow double scallop capital.

Nave W wall

N and S capitals: smooth pointed leaves on the angles; double nested V motif in centre of each face.

Interior Features

Arches

Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

First order, shared:

The N and S capitals are both carved with thick, pointed leaves on the angles, and smaller leaves with rounded tips on each face. Above the leaves are small motifs, all apparently abstract with the exception of a stylised head on the E side of the S capital. The soffit and W face of the order are carved with lateral centrifugal chevron. On the soffit, the chevron comprises four flat bands and three hollows. On the face are two flat bands and two hollows. The chevron is arranged point-to-point, with nailhead on the edge.

Second order, E face:

The capitals both have thick smooth leaves curling over at the tip to form large volutes. The arch is plain.

Second order, W face:

The capitals are carved with thick smooth leaves with volutes. This order carries a minor and major archivolt. The minor archivolt has a square profile and is carved on its face with directional chevron, again with flat bands alternating with hollows, directed to the apex. The major archivolt is carved with lateral centrifugal chevron on both face and soffit, arranged point-to-point with nailhead on the edge. The soffit chevron comprises two bands and one hollow, the face chevron two bands and two hollows.

Furnishings

Fonts

The font is located against the W side of pier 1 of the S arcade. This is a square Sussex marble font with upright sides, each carved with four round-headed arches. The lower edge is chamfered. There are various cracks and inserts on the bowl, which is damaged to N and E. The bowl rests directly on a modern slab, which is upheld by a thick central shaft (containing the drain) and four angle shafts. These are modern, and have no capitals or bases. The two superimposed chamfered plinths are also modern.

Dimensions
diam. of basin 0.57 m
h. 0.34 m
w. of sides 0.73 - 0.74 m

Comments/Opinions

The 12thc. work at Amberley is usually attributed to masons from Chichester Cathedral, but is stylistically closer to the work of the second campaign at Steyning (ie: the arch at the E end of the N aisle; the E responds of the N arcade; the chancel arch). A series of direct formal parallels can be cited. To begin with, the first order of the arch at the E end of the N aisle at Steyning and the first and third orders of the chancel arch at Amberley are carved with point-to-point chevron with nailhead on the arris. In both cases, the width of the voussoirs varies enormously. Although the rolls and hollows of the chevron are more rounded on the Steyning arch, there are reset voussoirs on the W wall of the W tower at Steyning which were carved with flattened rolls and angular hollows, technically very close to the voussoirs at Amberley. Parallels also exist between the capitals of Amberley and Steyning. Capitals carved with very thick, smooth leaves and pentagonal forms with grooves, capitals with smooth leaves issuing large volutes, and capitals with thick rounded, hollow leaves appear in both ensembles. The notion that masons from Chichester were involved at Amberley is based on some superficial resemblances, such as the narrow second or intermediary order of the SW doorway at Chichester, which is carved with directional chevron in a manner similar to the narrow second order of the Amberley chancel arch. Such similarities are design-based rather than being technical or stylistic, and admit the possibility that the same, or related designs (a common model) were consulted at Chichester and Amberley. But they were certainly executed by different workshops. George Zarnecki was sceptical about the 'relationship' with Chichester (GZ index cards) and dated Amberleyc.1140, while Nairn suggested that the style resembled Tortington and the latest Norman parts of Chichester, and dated it c.1150-60. Because of the parallels with Steyning, a date of c.1140 is more likely.

Bibliography

  • M. F. Drummond-Roberts, Some Sussex Fonts Photographed and Described. Brighton 1935, 3.
  • J. Morris and J. Mothersill (ed.), Domesday Book: Sussex. Chichester 1976, 3.5.
  • A. H. Peat and L. C. Halsted, Churches and Other Antiquities of West Sussex. Chichester 1912, 22-25.
  • K. Gravett, 'Church of St Michael, Amberley', Proceedings of the Summer Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute at Chichester in 1985. The Archaeological Journal, 1985, 61.
  • I. Nairn and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Sussex. Harmondsworth 1965, 79-80.
  • Rev. G. A. Clarkson, 'Notes on Amberley, its Castle, Church, etc', Sussex Archaeological Collections 17. 1865, 185-239.
  • A. K. Walker, An Introduction to the Study of English Fonts with Details of those in Sussex. London 1908, 102-103.
  • W. H. Godfrey, 'St Michael, Amberley', Sussex Notes and Queries 8. 1940, 102.
  • G. Zarnecki, unpublished index cards
Church Plan

Location

Site Location
Amberley
National Grid Reference
TQ 027 132 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Sussex
now: West Sussex
Diocese
medieval: Chichester
now: Chichester
Dedication
medieval: not confirmed
now: St Michael
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Kathryn Morrison