Sidlesham church is down a short lane off the B2145, Chichester to Selsey road, by some thatched cottages. The current church originates from the early 12th century, however Christianity probably arrived during the Roman era.

The Romans landed in Pagham Harbour in AD 46, where at the time, the area was occupied by the Celtic Regnenses tribe with their chief Cogidubnus. Cogdubnus was confirmed, by the Romans, as the local ruler and took the name Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus; he claimed to be Rex Magnus Britanniae. Sidlesham was part of a client province, of Rome, until the early 5th century.

During the rule of the Roman Emperor, Theodosius (AD 378-395), Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire; so it is likely that the citizens of Sussex would have been largely Christian towards the end of the 4th century. However in the late 5th century, after the departure of the Roman army, the Saxons arrived in Sussex and brought with them their polytheistic religion. The Saxon pagan culture probably caused a reversal of the spread of Christianity.

In AD 691 Saint Wilfred , the exiled Bishop of York came to the area and  is credited with evangilising the locals and founding the church in Sussex, and according to  the Venerable Bede it was the last area of the country to be converted.

The Buildings

St Mary’s church was built in the early 13th century, probably on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The style of the building is early English. As built, the church was cruciform, with a chancel tower, transepts and aisles. The Chancel extended beyond the bounds of the existing east wall. There were two Chantry chapels and, possibly, two aisles built in the 14th century. There was also a vestry to the north of the Chapel area.

 

The north chapel and part of the Chancel were allowed to fall into ruin, probably in the early 16th century, but were rebuilt, using much of the original materials, shortly after 1660. During this rebuilding, the east window was moved to the current position, giving the church the unusual T-shape it has now.

The Chancel area is traditionally, the responsibility of the Vicar, the remainder of the building being that of the Church Wardens. It seems possible that, at some time, there was a disagreement about this since, to make it absolutely clear two small stones inscribed, Chancel Boundary, 1814" were inserted in the eastern columns. The niches(or pricinas), adjacent to the Altar, are original and were used for the cleansing of the Holy vessels, after celebration of the Holy Communion. An aumbry has been built into the wall, adjacent to the Altar, to keep the Blessed sacrament.

In the 15th century, the tower was added, complete with a minstrel's gallery; at the same time bells were hung, music for the services would have been provided by a village orchestra, comprising flute, fife, bassoon and fiddle.

 In 1850, a harmonium replaced the orchestra to provide music in the church. 

The current organ is an historic G M Holdich instument, formerly in the chapel of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and brought to Sidlesham through a bequest from a former organist, Mr Fred Stacey. More details can be found on the Music Page.

During the Middle Ages, the nave must have been very dark, as the only light came from the three narrow windows in both the north and south walls and two in the west wall. In 1596, three of these windows were converted to oblong windows. Alongside the new window, on the north wall, the workman could not resist adding, for posterity, his initials! 

The Font, adjacent to this window, is about the same age as the church and is typical of early Sussex work. It was removed from the church, during the Civil War and its weather-beaten and rather battered appearance may be the result of it having been buried during this time. It was re-erected in 1660. There is a drain, from the font, which discharges just above the tiled floor. An Edict requires that the water in the font, which has been blessed, should be collected and cast away outside the church. In the old days, it was suspected that if this action was not taken, the water might be used for witchcraft purposes. 

In the 18th century, side galleries and large box pews were constructed the incisions to support the galleries can be seen, cut into pillars. It seems likely that, to compensate for the reduction of light, led to the villagers subscribing to the splendid brass candelabrum, installed in 1750.

There is an iron screen, dating from 1815, in the north chapel, that is a fine example of the work of Sussex blacksmiths.

Adjacent to the south of the church are the Parish Rooms. These were officially opened by the Bishop of Chichester on the 3 September 2017. Their purpose is to provide modern facilities for the church. The design and plans for the Parish rooms were created by the architect Jane Jones-Warner. The work was undertaken by the specialist building firm of R W Armstrong

parish rooms