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Chichester West Sussex +

Signs of the Times

On the eve of the 17th Sunday after Trinity, or as one entrant in the Visitors’ Book of the Pallant House Art Gallery put it, “37 days till Halloween”, we spend the day in Chichester. Pronounced “Chai-chester” if you are from Belfast (Chichester Street is one of the city’s main thoroughfares). Londoners put the hitch into “Chitch-ester”. The city is logically and legibly laid out: North, South, East and West Streets crisscross at Chichester Cross.

The laneways snaking round the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity are pure Miss Marple territory. The red brick Deanery with its façade spanning pediment gable is one of many historic residences under the shadow of the spire. The cathedral itself is an absolute medley of periods and styles with a very deliberate Romanesque vault system and simply divine medieval tracery. Recent additions include a portly stone head of The Queen, part cherub part gargoyle, looking down on commoners traipsing through the main entrance.

Every street is a revelation. There’s Chichester’s narrowest house at 6a North Pallant with its skinny one bay façade and entrance door squeezed to the left of the bay. Then there’s the Queen Anne townhouse reborn as the Pallant House Art Gallery. It has a smart restaurant in the 2006 wing designed by Sir Colin Wilson and Long + Kentish. A current exhibition of 80 miniature works of art by the likes of Damien Hirst, Augustus John, Paul Nash and Rachel Whiteread fills a model art gallery, an architectural maquette, with transparent gable end elevations designed by Wright + Wright architects.

There are wide townhouses of Henrietta Street Dublin proportions with double pile roofs and deep returns. There are white brick terraces with paired entrance doors. It rains, it shines, we come close to missing our train (The Foundry pub is temptingly close yet mercifully next to the railway station) all full of the joys of a day well spent. And everywhere in this most civilised of cities are enough signs of the historic times to compete with a Harry Styles song.

The plinth of the statue of St Richard Bishop of Chichester,1245 to 1253, near the entrance to the cathedral: “Thanks be to Thee my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which Thou has given me, for all the pains and insults which Thou hast borne for me. O Most Merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly.”

A plaque in the cathedral: “Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester 1955 to 1977, was in the forefront of the 20th century renaissance of church patronage of contemporary artists. As Vicar of St Matthew’s, Northampton, he had commissioned a ‘Mother and Child’ by Henry Moore and a ‘Crucifixion’ by Graham Sutherland. For Chichester he commissioned the Sutherland painting, the John Piper tapestry, the Marc Chagall window and copes by Ceri Richards. Hussey was responsible for introducing Geoffrey Clarke’s cast aluminium works such as the furniture in this chapel, the lectern at the shrine and the pulpit. He also commissioned major works of choral music including Berstein’s Chichester Psalms and Albright’s Chichester Mass. Hussey himself amassed an important collection of modern art which he left to the Pallant House Gallery. There may be seen sketches for the Piper tapestry and Feibusch’s Baptism of Christ, as well as another version of the Sutherland painting and works by others including Ivon Hitchens.”

The painting Noli me Tangere by Graham Sutherland, 1960, inside the cathedral: “This painting depicts the moment when Mary Magdalene finds the tomb of Christ empty, but encounters the resurrected Christ and mistakes Him for a gardener. Sutherland presented Dean Hussey with two paintings; Hussey selected the one he felt most appropriate for the cathedral setting, which features Christ in a gardener’s straw hat. The second painting remained in Hussey’s private collection, now at the Pallant House Gallery.”

The Chagall Window in the cathedral: “This window designed by Marc Chagall and made by Charles Marq was unveiled by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent and dedicated to the Bishop of Chichester at 12 noon on Friday, 6 October, 1978. It was commissioned by Dr Walter Hussey shortly before he retired as Dean. The theme of the window is Psalm 150: ‘O praise God in His holiness – Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.’ The triumphal quality of this chant is expressed by the dominance in the composition of the colour red (red on white, on green, on yellow) broken up by a certain number of green, blue and yellow blobs. This is the first time that Marc Chagall has conceived a subject composed entirely of small figures: it is the people in festive mood glorifying the Lord, exalting His greatness and His creation. The musicians are playing the instruments referred to in the Psalm: horn, drum, flutes, strings and cymbals. A man juxtaposed with an animal at the right hand edge of the composition holds open a little book, indicating that the word too participates in this hymn of praise. In the centre two figures hold up the seven branched candlestick, while David, author of the Psalm, crowns the whole composition playing upon his harp.”

Another 20th century insertion into the cathedral: “The High Altar and Piper Tapestry 1966. Considered the spiritual heart of a church, the High Altar represents the ‘holy table’, a sacred place for gifts and prayers to be offered to God. The tapestry, set behind the High Altar, was commissioned by Dean Hussey from the British artist John Piper and was installed in 1966. It consists of seven panels, each one metre wide and five metres high. Using bold colours and striking imagery the central subject is the Holy Trinity, to which the cathedral is dedicated.”

The most famous memorial in the cathedral: “The Arundel Tomb circa 1375. This tomb monument is widely identified as being that of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel (died 1376) and his second wife Eleanor of Lancaster (circa 1372). It was first erected at Lewes Priory and was moved to Chichester following the priory’s dissolution in 1537. The hand joining pose of the figures is rare and was restored in 1843 after much research. The tomb is best known today through Philip Larkin’s poem ‘An Arundel Tomb’ (1955).

One of our best architectural finds in Chichester: “Welcome to St John’s Chapel. This Grade I Listed Building is no longer used for regular worship but is one of over 330 churches in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust. Despite its nonconformist appearance St John’s Chapel is in fact Anglican. It was opened in 1813 to overcome the shortage of accommodation provided by the city’s seven tiny parish churches. It was not a parish church but a proprietary chapel which, although firmly part of the Church of England, was built and run as a commercial venture. Its Trustees, in addition to paying the Minister’s and organist’s salaries and keeping the building in repair, had to pay dividends to the shareholders and keeping the ‘business’ afloat was a constant struggle.”

“With no income from a parish or financial support from the Diocese the Trustees’ income had to come from sale and rent of pews and the generosity of the congregation. Worshipping at a proprietary chapel was an expensive alternative to a parish church! St John’s was designed by the London architect James Elmes (1782 to 1862) who carried out a body of work in and around Chichester between 1811 and 1814 when he was also surveyor to Chichester Cathedral. The wealthy bought or rented spacious box pews situated in and beneath the gallery. These pews were only accessible from the side porches. However the 1812 Act of Parliament authorising the chapel required at least 250 free seats to be provided for the use of the poor. These were open backed benches in the centre of the chapel and as they could only be reached from the front door the classes were kept strictly separated.”

“A three decker pulpit was a most essential attribute of a Georgian church or chapel and was used for the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. The lower desk was occupied by the Parish Clerk who had the job of leading the congregation in the responses and Psalms. The Minister would occupy the middle desk from which he would read the service but after the third collection and the prayers he would ascend the stairs to the pulpit to preach his sermon. From this vantage point he would have a good view of those in the gallery as well as those sitting below and could also watch the clock set in the west end gallery in order to time his sermon. The pulpit of St John’s is made of American black birch and was originally laid out on the more usual east west axis. At some time it was realigned north south and examination of the lower desk reveals the fact that there was originally a door on the north side.”

A jolly plaque over the front door of the Council House and Assembly Room, “Licensed in pursuance of Act of Parliament for music and dancing.” This building is one of the most architecturally important in Chichester: “The Council House was erected in 1731 by public subscription at a cost of £1,189. It was designed by Roger Morris (1695 to 1749), the architectural associate of the Earl of Pembroke, who, with the 3rd Earl of Burlington, was the leader of the Palladian movement which set the standards for nearly all English architecture in the second half of the 18th century. The Assembly Room was added to the east of the Council House from the designs of James Wyatt (1746 to 1813). It is approached from the landing of the Council House, through an anteroom, formerly a civic apartment. It is a spacious room of three bays lit by three windows. There are niches over the original fireplace.” And finally, a race down the ages of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity.

  • 2025: To mark the 950th anniversary of the cathedral’s move from Selsey to its forever home, there will be a festival of music and art.
  • 2021: Lavender’s Blue make a pilgrimage to the oldest city in Sussex.
  • 1960s: Modern artworks by among others Ursula Benker-Schermer, Hans Feibusch and John Piper are commissioned.
  • 1930: St Richard’s shrine is restored.
  • 1866: The cathedral reopens after repair.
  • 1861: The tower and spire collapse.
  • 1660: Restoration begins on the cathedral.
  • 1642: Parliamentaries ransack the building during the English Civil War.
  • 1538: St Richard’s shrine is wrecked during the Reformation.
  • 1530: The large scale paintings by Lambert Barnard are completed.
  • 1400: The spire, cloisters and bell tower are constructed.
  • 1276: The body of St Richard is moved to the retroquire after being canonised by Pope Urban IV 14 years earlier.
  • 1100s: Much of the eastern end of the cathedral is destroyed by a series of fires.
  • 1108: The cathedral is consecrated.
  • 1075: The bishopric and cathedral are moved to Chichester and building work commences.
  • 681: The monastery founded by St Wilfried in Selsey becomes the first cathedral in Sussex.