The Beautiful Ancient Rural Churches Of Sussex (I)

This is the first in an occasional series of posts featuring images made in and around some of the churches and churchyards of rural Sussex, where I live.

This isn’t a tourist’s guide, so you won’t find detailed histories of the churches, or precise locations, and often you won’t even see full images, but rather isolated excerpts of the parts I’ve found interesting enough to want to immortalise in a photograph.

First, some background.

Regular readers will have noted a prevalence of photographs I’ve shared here made in churches or churchyards.

The appeals of these places as a photographer are multiple.

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First, they are generally very tranquil and peaceful places.

Especially the rural churches I visit, where I rarely see more than one or two other people there, and often none at all.

I just like the quiet and the calm as an antidote to much of life’s greater intensity and pace.

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Second, they are full of old – and therefore weathered and decaying – objects. 

Which I love to photograph, with all their textures and suggested stories. It also reminds me of how nature gradually reclaims all things.

Sunlight falling across stone weathered by centuries of wind and rain makes just the most wonderful images, in my eyes.

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Third, I love the history and the age of the places.

The churches are typically at least a couple of centuries old, and I see plenty of gravestones marking those who passed in 19th and 18th centuries, and sometimes even earlier.

I wonder if this gives me a kind of reassurance that some things we can count on as enduring and remaining, again in a modern world where so much is fleeting. I think it also simply helps me appreciate that I’m alive.

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Finally, churchyards, and especially the churches themselves, are generally very beautiful and spiritual places.

I don’t align to any particular religion, but I do feel I’m a fairly spiritual person, and being in places like these instils with me with both a sense of awe, and quiet rejuvenation. Which draws me back to them regularly.

As you can see, there are many reasons I love churches and churchyards. 

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Look out for future posts in this series, if you enjoyed this one.

Do you photograph in churchyards? What do you enjoy about them? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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10 thoughts on “The Beautiful Ancient Rural Churches Of Sussex (I)”

  1. I too am a habitué of churchyards and cemeteries. I agree with your assertions about the actions of sun and wind.
    Speaking purely for myself, I suspect that one reason that we photographers like such places is “tonality” for want of a better word. Every nuance of the passing years transforms these places.

    Unfortunately, just recently one such cemetery that I have snapped so often has suddenly undergone a transformation at the hands of “health and safety” and their action has in turn led directly to some rather nasty vandalism (at best).

    The first thing is that the local authorities have gone through the whole place with bright blue package wrapping, the type that cardboard boxes are secured with, driven a stake into the ground, and then tied the accompanying headstone to it with the garish blue tape. Signs have been placed at regular intervals informing us that it has been done for our own safety… Gravestones that have stood for a hundred years or more are now, all of a sudden, terribly vulnerable to falling over on to passing visitors or mourners.

    And of course, it hasn’t been done for aesthetic reasons, it has not improved the actions of up to 150 years of gentle erosion in any way whatsoever. Rather it is an ill thought through box ticking exercise.

    At this point, the invitation to certain quarters seems to have become obvious, for some, the concept of respect seems to be of little value. For what has happened is that some folk have broken into the place (must be when not attended) and pushed over, every single stone crucifix in the place… hundreds of them.

    1. Thanks Stephen, yes I know there are certain doors or gates or gravestones I’ve photographed multiple times over the years and seen their gradual decay. I love the whole concept of nature reclaiming everything to the earth in time.

      That’s really sad to hear about the health and safety “issues” at one of your local ones. Yes most of the graveyards I visit have numerous stones that have looked like they’ve been about to fall for years. And some that did fall, perhaps decades ago. But the risk to anyone passing must be incredibly remote, so why the authorities started taping them up seems bizarre. And of course completely ruins the general appearance and atmosphere of the whole place… Maybe those who pushed them over had the plan that this would make the authorities remove all the tape again… But I suspect I give them more credit than they deserve and it’s just disrespectful vandalism.

  2. I love photographing in church yards and graveyards. It’s quiet, there is always plenty to photograph, from wildlife to the textures of the old stones. Great place even in winter as some of the ornaments and plastic flowers make good subjects. The older the place, and sometimes the more overgrown it is, the better it is.

    There is a cemetery in Bolton that is massive, and one near Moston that is even larger. Am planning to go back to both as there will have been so much I’ve missed.

    Glad it’s not just me that likes these places as I thought it was a bit odd.

    1. Thanks for your comments Phil. I’m gald it’s not just me too!

      Yes actually winter sometimes makes for the most dramatic photographs, with stark trees, frost and snow, and the gravestones standing firm through all seasons…

      I tend to stay away from largely cemeteries, I love the small churches and churchyards in the back of beyond.

  3. Dan, I love your work. I agree that there’s a very reflective quality to decaying objects. I have an affinity for old decrepit barns, houses and old architecture in general.

    My mind can’t help but drift to thoughts of “who lived or worked here” or “If the walls could talk…”

    1. Thanks Rob, for your kind words.

      I too love decay, nature reclaiming the man made…

      Yes the history aspect is an appealing factor too, for example stepping inside a 15th century church and wondering how many others have crossed its threshold, and for what reason – weddings, christenings, funerals, weekly churchgoers or just visiting photographs and/or wanderers like us…

  4. Dan, you are a lucky dog to live in such a beautiful area. I can’t say I have ever, cemeteries and burial grounds yes, but Churches no. They are generally locked and trespassing is frowned upon here. I gave up on my local Parish years ago finding it unfriendly and unwelcoming. There was an old Church on our street, but it fell down a long time ago. I tried to find the cellar hole, but no one remembers where it was. I like your Church photos a lot, they do seem very spiritual to me.

    1. Thanks Jon, appreciate your comments.

      Most rural churches here remain open during daylight hours which I’ve also found very comforting – a place of sanctuary open to all.

      I never visit when a service is on! I had some experience with church services in my late childhood but it put me off more than encouraged me. I prefer the buildings to the communities!

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