ST ANDREW’S, ALFRISTON
Founded in the 1360s, St Andrew’s is a fine example of a 14th century parish church, located close to the winding Cuckmere River, and beside the Old Clergy House (the first National Trust property). Built with all the loving care of the craftsmen of that age, it is unlike many other churches, because it was built all at one time with no major later additions. Its size and soaring arches (together with few memorials in the interior, creating a spacious and open feel), make it stand out from many local churches, and it has become known as the “Cathedral of the South Downs”.
A number of mysteries surround the church. Firstly, for an original village of just a few hundred souls, the building is very large indeed, and no one knows why or who commissioned its construction. In addition, the reason for its dedication to Saint Andrew the apostle is likewise unknown. Perhaps, and most intriguingly, is the mound on which the church stands – the latter rises from the village green (“The Tye”), and may be man-made, indicating that it could have been a pre-Christian site, in an area known for having a long history of human habitation.
Unusually, the church is built in the form of a Greek Cross (a cross with arms of equal length), and made of exceptionally fine flint work, with greensand stone forming the quoins (external wall angles) and facings. Inside, the tower is supported by lofty arches, with unusual and delicately fluted piers. Originally the interior walls were covered with brightly coloured murals, and the remains of these can be seen in the sanctuary, where the original consecration crosses remain (used to make the church “holy” and set apart). Six bells are placed below the spire, and for this reason the church is one of less than twenty in the country where bell ringers regularly (and dramatically) ring from the centre of the church.
There are many other fascinating features in and around the church, including an original and fine Easter sepulchre, piscina (an apse where the priest prepares his hands during a service) and sedilia (elaborately decorated seating set into the wall). Outside is a medieval scratch dial in the south wall (a sun dial to determine the times of services).
St Andrew’s is surrounded by an older, closed churchyard (which is partially left to promote wild flowers), and a lower churchyard. Notable burials include Baron Denis Healey (famous Labour Party politician), Sir Peter Medawar (one of Britain’s greatest 20th century scientists), Brigadier General William Bodle (pioneer of Southern Africa), and Bill Sparks (last of the “Cockleshell Heroes”). You can find out more about them and their significant contributions to our national life here.
Owing to its beautiful location, its history and stunning interior, St Andrew’s is visited throughout the year by walkers and visitors by car and coach.
The church also has exceptional View Pageacoustics, and music concerts and other events regularly occur.
In 2017 the prolific author Bill Bryson placed St Andrew’s, Alfriston in his top favourite 14 churches in the UK (along with the likes of Durham Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square) here.
Throughout the year the church is used for worship, and all are very welcome.
There is a service of Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer) at 8 am every Sunday (except the 5th Sunday), and the usual pattern of 11 am services each month is as follows (please note Church Festivals and special services, on occasion, can vary this pattern):-
- 1st Sunday (Jan/Mar/May/Jul/Sep/Nov) Matins (BCP)
- 1st Sunday (Feb/Apr/Jun/Aug/Oct/Dec) Morning Worship
- 2nd Sunday Holy Communion (Common Worship)
- 3rd Sunday Family Service (with Sunday School)
- 4th Sunday Holy Communion (Common Worship)
- 5th Sunday Benefice Service (at one of the five Benefice churches)
For the current month’s services here.
Services in the Week
There is a service of Holy Communion (Book of Common Prayer) at 10.15 am every Wednesday, and various other services in the week, depending on the season (e.g. Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, St George’s Day, Ascension Day …).
Services of Thanksgiving and Funerals
St Andrew’s is often used for Services of Thanksgiving and Funerals, because many from the Cuckmere Valley and outside have an affinity with the church here. The churchyard is open for burials, and ashes are also interred, but both require some tangible connection with the local area, and inquiries should be made to the Rector.
The church is open daily from about 9 am until dusk.
Church Guides are sometimes available to show groups and individual visitors around the church.
If you click once on a gallery photo below, it will open to a full size image.