Page:Highways and Byways in Sussex.djvu/295

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
XXVIII
267
THE CATHEDRAL OF THE DOWNS

and a ball, in one of the rooms, I opened the door and discovered the landlord and a groom from the racing stables near by in the throes of the most modern of games, amid surroundings absolutely mediæval.

The size of the grave and commanding church, which has been called the cathedral of the South Downs, alone proves that Alfriston was once a vastly more important place than it now is. Legend says that the foundations were first cut in the meadow known as Savyne Croft. There day after day the builders laid their stones, arriving each morning to find them removed to the Tye, the field where the church now stands. At last the meaning of the miracle entered their heads, and the church was erected on the new site. Its shape was determined by the slumbers of four oxen, who were observed by the architect to be sleeping in the form of a cross. Poynings church, under the Dyke Hill, near Brighton, was built, it has been conjectured, by the same architect. Within the cathedral of the South Downs, which is a fourteenth century building, is a superb east window, but it has no coloured glass. The register, beginning with 1504, is perhaps the oldest in England. Hard by the church is the simple little clergy house—unique in England, I believe—dating from pre-Reformation times. It has lately been very carefully restored.

Alfriston once had a scholar in the person of Thomas Chowne, of Frog Firle, the old house on the road to Seaford, about a mile beyond the village. Chowne, who died in 1639, and was buried at Alfriston, is thus touched off by Fuller:—"Thomas Chune, Esquire, living at Alfriston in this County, set forth a small Manuall, intituled Collectiones Theologicarum Conclusionum. Indeed, many have much opposed it (as what book meeteth not with opposition?); though such as dislike must commend the brevity and clearness of his Positions. For mine own part, I am glad to see a Lay-Gentleman so able and industrious." Chowne's great great grandson, an antiquary, one night left some books too near his library