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Tours > Sussex Churches > Coombes

Dedication Unknown - Coombes
TQ 191081; Two Miles South-East of Steyning
This church stands in a most dramatic location, in a fold of the South Downs above a working farmyard. Since it was built in the twelfth century little has changed in terms of its external appearance although larger windows were inserted as part of later medieval updating.

The church is built of the ubiquitous local flint, with dressings of Caen Stone from Normandy easily brought here by boat via the estuary of the River Adur. Nave and chancel have a continuous roofline with its south side being roofed entirely of Horsham Slab. A window in the south side of the chancel has a rare blocked round window. This formed a 'low side window' a fairly common feature found in English churches.

During the celebration of the Mass a bell was rung to identify the most important part in the ceremony. In churches which had a tower a large bell was rung, but Blocked Round Window in a small country church a kneeling priest would have rung a handbell through a low window facing the centre of population. The practice ceased at the Reformation and in the nineteenth century churches with such a feature liked to tell their visitors that these little low windows had been used by lepers who would not have been allowed in the building. This explanation, however, is entirely spurious.

The church has an uneven floor of old brick and tile containing a few incised slabs and inscriptions. There are substantial remains of wall paintings discovered in 1949. They date from the early twelfth century and are more fragmentary than at Clayton. The south wall of the nave has scenes from the Nativity as well as decorative motifs. In the north soffit of the chancel arch is a very rare figure of a man supporting a very heavy beam. It is of Byzantine origin and is an unusual subject to find in an English church.

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