This ancient church has been much altered through the centuries, particularly after the building was struck by lightning on June 16th 1663. This strike, which entered through the steeple, caused massive damage to the structure and contents. Apparently even the bells were melted!
The church rebuilding was completed in 1680. The font, dated 1666, and the five light eastern window, date from this time of reconstruction.
These events have left Withyham a rare example of a church built almost entirely in the 17th century; with the base of the tower and the north wall of the nave being the sole survivors of earlier work; the only alterations since this time being the removal of the north aisle and the building of south aisle.
The enormous Sackville Chapel was added at the time of the rebuilding, and completely dwarfs the chancel. It covers a vault that is the last resting place of many members of that illustrious family, including the famous poet and gardener Vita Sackville West (9th March 1892 - 2 June 1962) - one of our heroines and famous for her beautiful garden at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.
The glory of the chapel is the monument to Thomas Sackville (died aged 13 in 1675) and his parents. Carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the monument expresses painfully the grief felt by the young boy's parents and is very moving.
This sundial is mounted over the entrance to the building.
These windows are in the north wall. The first depicts St Nicholas and St Boniface. The second depicts St George and, I believe, the conversion of Paul.
The next window depicts St Michael, the patron saint of the church. Next to it is rather a poor, overexposed image, of another window whose subject matter I have yet to investigate.
This is the inside, looking from the nave towards the altar. The Sackville Chapel is to the left of the picture, the carved monument just visible under the left hand window. The light streaming into the picture from the right is from some unusual 'dormer' type windows in the roof of the building, visible above the entrance porch in the picture above.
The light coloured stone and the light from the dormer windows give the building a feeling of space and light. Its setting on the slopes of a hill apart from the village, with magnificent views from the churchyard, make it a truly special place, and one of my favourite Sussex churches.
Here is a closer view of the altar and east window.
The church contains these fabulous wall paintings above the chancel arch, the picture has been electronically corrected for perspective distortion and the contrast enhanced to make the images easier to see.
From the 1882 Kelly's directory:
"The church of St. Michael is a stone building, chiefly in the perpendicular style, consisting of chancel, north chapel, nave, aisles, transept, south porch, and a western battlemented tower containing 6 bells, 2 dated 1674 and the rest 1715: on the north-east side is a private chapel, belonging to the ancient family of Sackville, with banners and shields of arms; beneath is the vault, which for many centuries has been their place of burial; there are three fine monuments by Nollekens, Flaxman and Chantrey, and one by Cibber, of the fifth Earl of Dorset, his countess and their children; the north window exhibits, in stained glass, the inter-marriages of the family from the time of the Norman Conquest: the church was thoroughly renovated and a south aisle added in 1844. The register dates from the year 1663."
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