St Mary the Blessed Virgin
Church Lane, Sompting, West Sussex BN15 0AZ
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St Mary the Blessed Virgin church at Sompting sports a Rhenish helm spire which is unique in England. The square tower is finished with four steeply pitched gables, making the four sides of the spire rhomboid in shape. As the name suggests, similar Rhenish helm spires are found on German churches in the Rhine area.
It appears that the lower section of the tower is Saxon, whilst the second stage was built post-Conquest. The two stages are separated by a string course, above which the long and short stones of the pilasters differ in section from the lower ones. Other material and architectural details seem to confirm that the two stages were built at different times. Dating is further complicated by later alterations. The Rhenish spire probably dates from the 14th century, when the gables were rebuilt.
Unusually, there is no chancel arch leading from the nave to the 12th century chancel. The canopied tomb chest of Richard Burré, who died in 1528, is along the north chancel wall. The chest has large quatrefoils, and the backdrop above, has an angel holding a shield which is quartered for the arms of leather sellers, goldsmiths and fishmongers, and those of the Tregoz family. The two light window above the tomb has 1889 glass depicting the Adoration of the Magi.
St Mary’s has a baptistery which is actually a small extension to the 12th century south transept. The 12th century round font stands on a pedestal below a transitional Norman window of c1190 with Victorian glass depicting the Good Shepherd. The south wall of the small baptistery has a 12th century lancet window with stained glass, installed in 1884, depicting the Angel of Praise. The semi-circular headed aumbry below the window has an embroidered banner showing bottles of the three sacramental oils viz catechumens, chrism and sick. The Oil of Catechumen was used in baptisms, Holy Chrism for confirmations, and the Oil of Sick for the infirm.