76. St Peter and St Paul, West Wittering
In 774 Ethelbert King of the South Saxons granted land for the building of a church on this site less than a mile from the sea. Danish invaders destroyed the original Saxon church in 1000 AD. The present church largely hidden by trees, was built by the Normans in the 12th century and is a mixture of Norman and Early English styles. All that remains of the Saxon church is the font and a Saxon Cross displayed in the Lady Chapel.
Entrance is by a 15th century porch on the north side almost alongside the tower. The immediate impression inside is of a rather gloomy Victorian church but closer inspection reveals many points of interest. The oldest feature is the late Saxon font, a plain tub on a round base made of hard limestone almost certainly dating back to the original church.
The Ten Commandments are displayed on two boards either side of the chancel arch and high above are two sculptured heads of St Peter and St Paul. The chancel contains two late Gothic early 16th century tombs near the altar on the north side. The larger tomb was erected by William Ernley of Cakeham in memory of his first wife Elizabeth who died in 1530. In the back of the niche is shown the Risen Lord in graveclothes beside the tomb guarded by soldiers in Tudor armour. The smaller tomb commemorates William Ernley himself and was erected by his second wife Bridget. He is shown kneeling facing her with two children behind him. Christ is portrayed with a rayed nimbus and below a rare Lily Crucifix. This is a pot with three lily stems and with a crucified figure on the central stem. In front of the altar a floor brass commemorates Elizabeth Taylor who died in 1677.
Also on the north side are a pair of medieval stalls both with their original misericords showing a mitred head and two Tudor roses. They were probably designed for Bishop Sherburne who died in 1536 and lived in Cakeham Manor. Above is a stained glass window portraying St John and St Cecilia placed there to commemorate Charles and Maria Coombes who died in 1899.
Alongside is the parish War Memorial beautifully carved by Eric Gill the famous sculptor whose father was vicar of West Wittering 1914-30. Twenty names are recorded in black with the year of death in red. One of them was the son of the vicar Captain Kenneth Carlyle Gill MC of the Cambridgeshire Regiment killed in action on October 22 1918. He is also commemorated in an attractive stained glass window in the south aisle. The glass shows St George in a blue cloak and carrying a red shield and St Patrick dressed in green.
The east window has late Victorian glass showing Christ feeding the hungry. The altar rails are Elizabethan dating from 1560. The Lady Chapel not only contains the Saxon Cross but also an ancient broken marble slab engraved with a Bishop's pastoral staff and a Greek cross believed to have come from a reliquary containing the relics of St Richard of Chichester, a 13th century bishop who often visited West Wittering. Part of his story is shown in the beautiful red, white and gold altar frontal presented by Yvonne Rusbridge in 1976. On the left St Richard is shown feeding the hungry in Cakeham and on the right leading his followers from the church, his candle miraculously alight despite the gust of wind which blew out all the other candles. On the pillar underneath the Saxon Cross some 40 pilgrim crosses can be seen. On the floor an 18th century tomb slab commemorates Edmund Maslin of Southcott who died in 1704. The Lady Chapel window depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd, placed there in 1861 in memory of William Snuggs.
The tower unusually is on the north side of the nave and its base today forms the vestry. Access to the belfry is by a 13th century wooden staircase whilst the base of the belfry is supported by a massive wooden cage dating from 1500.
The large churchyard contains many early gravestones and numerous trees which help shield the church from winter storms blowing in from Chichester Harbour.
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