Ninety nine per cent of the walls of the nave, the three great arches and the two transepts which we see today, are original Saxon work. The stonework of the apse is also Saxon and the large chancel is unique in an English church of this age. After the Norman Conquest, Worth Church was given by William the Conqueror to his son-in-law, William de Warenne and the arms of the de Warenne family are depicted in stained glass in the north transept.
The church remained in the hands of the de Warenne family until about the middle of the 14th century when the church and lands passed into the Fitzalan family through the marriage of the daughter of the last of the de Warennes to the Earl of Arundel. It then passed to the Nevills, Earls of Abergavenny on the death of the fifth Earl of Arundel in 1415 and later to Lord Abergavenny (d. 1476)
The church itself is approached through a lych-gate, originally 16th century: (restored and refurbished in 2006) and then through a mixed avenue of lime trees and turkey oaks.
The style of the church itself is cruciform: the West (entrance) door is 14th century and upon entering the building, one is immediately aware of the huge Saxon arch at the east end of the Nave. At 22 feet high and 14 feet wide this is possibly one of the largest Saxon arches in existence. It is a powerful expression of the faith and dedication of the masons and builders who constructed it and its companion arches on either side. High up on the south side of the arch, the stone is seen to be worn and on investigation this bears marks of rope friction. On the south pillar are marks possible made by a cleat. These signs point to the likely presence of a sanctus bell high over the arch in earlier times.
Immediately inside the West Door, you are standing beneath the gallery bearing the inscription “This Gallerie is the gift of Anthony Lynton, late Rector of this Parish, who deceased the XV day of June Anno Domino 1610”. At one time the gallery also extended the full length of the north side of the nave. Today’s gallery is used by the choir and houses the organ given in 1903 by Sir Weetman and Lady Pearson, later the first Viscount and Viscountess Cowdray, “to commemorate the coming of age of their eldest son” (Weetman Harold Miller Pearson, the 2nd Viscount Cowdray).
At Worth, as elsewhere, the side-chapels (sometimes referred to as transepts and in early time known as “alaes”) are not truly opposite each other. In the south side-chapel(originally called the Lady Chapel) is a large modern window depicting the life and witness of St. Nicholas. The altar recess in the east wall consists of an early semi-circular arch now partly filled in leaving a pointed arch recess below. The north side-chapel is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where the sacrament is reserved in the ornate aumbry (cupboard) on the wall. This chapel is used for the recitation of the Daily Office and for weekday celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. Above the altar is a small stained glass window.
In the north wall of this side-chapel is the small window bearing the arms of the de Warenne family, and is the oldest window in the church, dating back to the 12th century.
The Chancel and Sanctuary area beyond the giant Saxon arch retains that feeling of space and peace which would have been familiar to our Saxon forebears. The stained glass window in the north wall is Victorian, and the chandeliers are 17th century. The 17th century communion rail (said to have come from an Oxford college chapel) of German workmanship, separates an area which would have once housed the High Altar. Nowadays the altar in the chancel is the focus for the celebration of the Eucharist each Sunday.
In the south wall close by the big arch is a small two-light 13th century window depicting “Faith” with her traditional emblem of a cross and “Hope” with an anchor. Also on the south side, towards the east, are a sedilia (stone seats), with a Tudor arch, and a 15th century piscina (basin) with trefoil arch.
On the north wall of the chancel, just to the east of the vestry door, is an aumbry (cupboard) where the three Holy Oils are kept:
- The Oil of Catechumens: used by the parochial clergy to anoint candidates who are about to receive the sacrament of baptism.
- The Oil of Chrism: used by the bishop to anoint candidates who are being confirmed and to anoint candidates who are being ordained to the priesthood
- The Oil of the Sick: used by the parochial clergy to anoint the sick and the dying
Walking back toward the West Door, the stained glass window above the gallery is from the 14th century.
On the north side, is the bell tower. This is a Victorian construction replacing an earlier building which rested on tree trunks! There is a note from 1684 that the church had three bells and that they were then augmented to four. In 1844 these were re-cast to form the peal of six which we have today. For more history about the bells, click here.
The Pulpit and Lectern
Beside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel stands the pulpit which dates from 1577. It is octagonal, and the five panels are elaborately carved with figures of Our Lord and the Four Evangelists with German inscriptions. The oak carved lectern was given in memory of the Revd. G.W. Banks (d. 1896). It was designed by the Revd. Arthur Bridge, his successor. Beside the lectern is a small window interesting for the early remains of early wall decoration – all that survived the lime-washing carried out during the great epidemics, (for example Cholera), designed to safeguard against possible contagion when people met for prayer. (Some further traces have been found around the top of the main arch.)
At the back of the church sits the font. This dates from about the 13th century, and displays notable carved panels of cross motifs. The four rectangular faces each have different carvings: (east) two rows of arched panel; (north) a double cross flory; (west) eight panels with quatrefoils and (south) diapered with quatrefoils with pointed lobes. The double cross flory motif also appears in the brass decor on the wooden top of the font.
The Windows and Doorways
The Saxon windows – two on the north side and one on the south side of the church – are unique in that there are no other known examples in the nave of any church – they were set at a great height for a purpose. In the troublesome times through which the church has lived, especially pre-conquest, almost every church was used as a place of safety to which people could flee for sanctuary afforded by solid walls of probably the only stone building in the district. Such high windows offered further protection making it difficult for marauders to gain access. In the south wall of the nave is a 15th century window of considerable beauty, although it is believed that a fourth Saxon window may at one time have occupied this position. On the north wall, opposite this window, is a War Memorial tablet with names of those who died in the World Wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45.
The very lofty archways of the north and south doorways are characteristic of late Saxon work. Some say that the arches were created in this form so that a horseman could ride into the building, make obeisance to the altar or pray, without dismounting, and then ride straight out of the opposite door without turning his mount. The north (or devil’s) door was filled in many years ago – no doubt to keep out the draughts – and the crucifix now in this arch is 18th century and probably Spanish in origin. At one time it was owned by a Bishop of Lewes.
More historical information can be found here.