The Parish of St Michael and All Angels, Withyham

and All Saints, Blackham

East Sussex

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mural of last judgement

Mural of The Last Judgement

Painted by Rev. Reginald Sackville West later to become 7th Earl De La Warr, when he was Rector of this church from 1841 to 1865

The Paintings

picture of the betrayal of Christ
The Betrayal of Christ

picture of the Christ washing Disciples' feet
Christ washing the Disciples' Feet

picture of the betrayal of Christ
The Flagellation of Christ

picture of the betrayal of Christ
The Mocking of Christ

picture of the east window

The East Window


History of St Michael and All Angels Church

There has certainly been a church at Withyham since a very early period. It is mentioned in 1291 in connection with Edward I sending money to Pope Nicholas IV for a crusade and Withyham was then valued at 45 marks.

The church was apparently almost completely rebuilt in the 14th century and consisted of a nave with a north and south aisle, chancel and west tower and at the east end of the north aisle was the chapel of the Sackville family.

On 16th June 1663 the church was struck by lightening coming in at the steeple, melting the bells, and up to the chancel where it smashed the monuments to the Sackville family to pieces. The family steward wrote to his master saying:

'I was much trubled to see soo fine a fabrick and such stately monuments so suddenlye turned to lime and ashes'

The damage was estimated at £1,860, a very large sum, and a Brief was granted by the Privy Council allowing collections to be made in Sussex and neighbouring counties to enable the parishioners of Withyham to begin to rebuild. The rebuilding of the church does not seem to have been finished until 1672 and the Sackville Chapel was not completed for another eight years.

Of the old church only the lower part of the tower, the west wall from the belfry door to the north-west corner and the north and south east walls remained to be incorporated into the new building. It was also around this time that the Rectory was built. Two years later the bells were recast and a sixth bell (treble) was added in 1715. These bells remained until 1908 when they were recast and a further two added to give the magnificent 8-bell peal we enjoy today.

During the 19th century much work was carried out on the church including the removal of the western gallery, a south aisle was built, the low ceiling removed and the chancel arch carried up in solid masonry. Carolean pews, pulpit and pannelling were removed and the ornate 17th century south porch was replaced. Oak seats to south and central aisles were installed and a screen between tower and nave erected.

The Paintings

In 1849 Edward John Ottley presented a set of four 14th century Italian paintings depicting the Passion of Christ to St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Withyham, East Sussex. They had been part of the collection of William Young Ottley, R.A, (1771-1836), collector, artist and art scholar. Their importance and value were not recognised until cleaning of the paintings was carried out at the Courtauld Institute 1990-1995. It was then discovered that they were too valuable to be returned to the church where inadequate security and unsuitable environmental conditions were a threat to their safety and conservation. They were transferred on loan to Leeds Castle (Maidstone) in 1997 and subsequently sold at auction by Sotheby’s, London, on 5th December 2012 for £950,000. The proceeds from the sale have been invested to produce a source of income to be used solely for the repair and maintenance of St Michael’s church and churchyard, thereby freeing up funds for the mission of the church and the pastoral needs of the parish. Four excellent full-size copies were made and now hang in the church.

The East Window

The beautiful East Window above the Altar was put in early in the nineteenth century when there were still a lot of people unable to read or write. Windows were used for teaching and here there are 10 panels which are meant to be read in the following order:

6     7     8     9     10

1     2     5     3     4

1. The Annunciation. The Virgin Mary is listening to the Angel above telling her she is to have a child who will be called Jesus.

2. The Nativity. A cameo of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a crib.

3. The Agony in the Garden. Christ is praying in the garden with three of his disciples, Peter, James and John asleep at his feet.

4. The Procession to Calvary. Christ carries his cross through the crowds.

5. The Crucifixion. Christ is on the Cross; Mary, his mother, stands on the left, Mary Magdalene on the right, and Mary, the mother of Apostle James, is kneeling

6. The Resurrection. Christ is stepping out of the tomb carrying a processional cross. The three Roman guards are asleep.

7. The appearance of Christ to St Mary Magdalene.

8. The Ascension. Christ is rising to Heaven supported by two angels.

9. The Descent of the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is depicted in the form of a white dove descending, shedding rays of light. Mary is in the centre in a blue robe surrounded by eleven of the twelve Disciples. (Judas who betrayed Christ is missing)

10. The Last Judgement.

More recently

Other interesting points about the church are its association with the famous English gardener Vita Sackville-West (whose ashes are entombed in the Sackville family vault in an inkpot!). More recent improvements have included the installation of oil-fired central heating and the replacement of the vestry floor. The bells have been rehung and the organ overhauled. The churchyard has been extended by land given by Lord De La Warr to form a car park.