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The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Sompting has been the starting point for many a book on English church architecture as it boasts the only Anglo-Saxon Rhinish Helm Tower in the country.

The tower, nave and chancel all date from the 11th century. The tower was completed before the Norman Conquest , whilst the rest of the church incorporates the new fashions in architecture the invaders brought with them.

Architectural historians can get very hung up on which bits are Saxon, which are Norman and why some Saxon elements have been "reused" in the later parts of the building.

I prefer to imagine some old boy sitting in the corner of the construction site in the 1070s, carving stones with the patterns he has used all his life, muttering about how these new-fangled semi-circular arches won't last and telling anyone who'll listen that triangular arches were good enough for his old dad.

In 1154 William de Braose, 3rd Lord of Bramber passed the church to the Knights Templar. They added a North Transept with two chapels, along with a separate chapel on the south side. The latter has now been incorporated into the church and forms the South Transept and Baptistry.

In 1324, after the Knights Templar had been suppresssed, Pope Clement V conveyed ownership of the church to the Knights Hospitaller. They added a chapel adjoining the north-west of the church which fell into ruins after Knights Hospitallers were disbanded in 1580. A modern Hospitallers' Room has been built within its shell by the Order of St John in 1971.

Outside, the churchyard must be one of the most beautiful in England. The ornamental trees and shrubs, along with the flower borders would put many a garden to shame.