Travel – Amberley Church and Castle, West Sussex, England
Amberley is a small but quaint village in West Sussex, England, situated at the foot of the South Downs. It‘s fairly close to Arundel with its impressive castle. The village has long been known for its hotchpotch of thatched cottages. Amberley has its own station stop on the Arun Valley Line plus a popular rural life museum.
The village is ‘picture-postcard Sussex’ set on a slope above the river Arun, all pretty cottages, gardens and thatch. Amberley also has a castle with high forbidding walls, now a Country House Hotel. The ‘castle’ was actually a fortified manor House, built next to the Norman church of St Michael.
The villages of Amberley and Bury across the Arun were joined, since Charles II’s reign, by a ferry, operated by the occupants of a cottage on the opposite bank but sadly the ferry ceased operating in 1965.
The Bishops of Chichester had a summer residence here, probably before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Although there are references to the lands at Amberley being granted to St Wilfrid in 670 by the Saxon King Cedwalla, there is no mention in the Domesday Book of a church here in 1086. Soon after the Norman invasion, an earlier Saxon wooden church was replaced by a stone structure and the church was enlarged around 1150-1160, the work of Bishop Luffa who also built Chichester Cathedral.
The magnificent chancel arch dates from this period as does the square font, with its shallow blank arches carved in the Purbeck marble. The interior is completely dominated by this arch carved in the Norman style: row upon row of zig-zag carving covers the sides and underneath of the arch, supported by robust smooth-leaf capitals.
To the south of the chancel arch are 12-13th century wall paintings, depicting scenes from the life of Christ. These are known as ‘Passion cycle’ paintings similar in purpose to the English Mystery Plays, telling in narrative sequence, the story of Christ’s Passion and death, sometimes continuing to the Resurrection and beyond. There are similar wall paintings in the Parish church at Kempley in Gloucestershire.
Outside the church, the high walls of the castle dominate the churchyard. Set in the castle wall is a wooden door through which the Bishops presumably walked to the church: it is named in honour of the most eminent of their number, St Richard of Chichester.
Saint Richard was the Bishop of Chichester (b.1197, d.1253) and was canonised in 1262. He is perhaps best known for his popular prayer of Christian devotion (see below).
His statue now stands outside the West Door of the beautiful cathedral church at Chichester.
‘Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother
May I know Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
and follow Thee more nearly’
The prayer of Saint Richard: Bishop of Chichester 1245 – 1253