‘Reading’ churches

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PROBABLY every area is proud of its churches, but Chichester has got more reason than most, says the man who should know.

Richard Taylor, author of How To Read A Church and presenter of the BBC series Churches: How To Read Them, has a huge fondness for this part of the country.

“I used to have a caravan at Wittering and loved the area. You’ve got some wonderful churches.”

Not least Chichester Cathedral - though the series’ no-cathedrals rule ruled it out of consideration.

“But you have got a wonderful little trio there, one that you could easily do in an afternoon.

“You should start at Bosham at Holy Trinity, which is very, very ancient, one of the earliest recorded Christian settlements in the country. You should start there for its sheer antiquity. You have got the great arch that appears on the Bayeux Tapestry, and it’s a fair bet that Harold prayed there before going into battle.

“And then you should go down the road to Boxgrove which was a few hundred years later. It’s a priory from just before the Reformation. And then you should go down to Cosham and come up to date with a 20th century, beautiful graceful white-pillaster church from the 1930s, St Philip.

“You’ve got a lovely triangular church trail with a thousand years of history there.”

Armed with Richard’s book, you will be able to enjoy it all the more: “People love visiting churches. Partly it’s because I think they feel that they are fixed points in our ever-changing world. And partly it’s because in England we have got such an abundance of riches.

“But also it is because of the drama. If you know what you are looking for, particularly with a church that has got a bit of history, you realise that these buildings have been witness to an extraordinary breadth of events, not just in broad terms - the Reformation, the 18th century or whatever, but also in in personal individual terms for generation after generation, places where there have been commitments of love, baptisms and funerals.”

Most people will simply step in and enjoy the atmosphere, but for Richard that’s not enough. He likens it to rock-pooling. The next step is to get down on your hands and knees and see what you can find out, in other words “read” the church.

“The whole point of the book and the series is that I am not holding myself out as the big grand expert. It’s something anybody can do. It’s a language that anybody can pick up, and if you do, it hugely enhances your enjoyment of the church.”

How To Read A Church is published by Ebury Publishing (ISBN-10: 1844130533; ISBN-13: 9781844130535).