Reading a building
A building’s stones tell its story. Simply by looking at a building you can learn a very great deal. Once you understand the language you can read different buildings, and gain an understanding of how they evolved.
This Guide is intended to help you learn the language of buildings, by showing you how to look at one particular building, and how to interpret what you see there. The Guide is structured as a Virtual Tour around St Michael’s Church, Amberley.
The Tour has two objectives:
- the first is to encourage you to look at buildings closely and help you interpret what you see;
- the second is to provide more detail on what we actually know about this building.
Looking can tell you much, and answer many questions. But it will rarely answer all questions, and will — it should — normally raise more. We shall try to answer as many questions as we are able to, given our present knowledge. In each segment of the tour we supplement the discussion of what we see, by adding what we know.
St Michael’s Church, Amberley
St Michael’s has undergone many changes during its long, 900-year history. The church as you see it now is not what you would have seen when it was first built. But its evolution is visible. Its story is written on it and in it. Just by looking – and with just a little bit of knowledge about old churches – you will be able to understand a great deal about this building. What you will learn here will help you look at other buildings and understand how they, too, evolved.
After taking this tour of St Michael’s Church we hope that you will be encouraged to look at other buildings, of whatever type or age, with a more enquiring eye. We hope that you will be able to see and understand more clearly how other buildings have evolved in time. And perhaps, if you have not already done so, you will visit St Michael’s and look at the features actually seen in the church rather than what are seen as photographs in this guide.
We will occasionally refer in this tour to St Michael’s sister churches, St Mary the Virgin, North Stoke and St Peter’s, Parham, both of which are within walking distance of Amberley and a few minutes by car. Both of these medieval churches are very different from St Michael’s. We would encourage you to visit these churches too, and try to read them using what you learn here.
We have not provided detailed descriptions of the carved stone-work in St Michael’s Church. We recommend the following websites for more information about these carvings:
- The Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland (CRSBI): www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/956/
- John Allen’s excellent site on Sussex Parish Churches: sussexparishchurches.org/product/amberley-st-michael/
Most terms which may be unfamiliar are shown underlined and are linked to the Glossary. Other terms with a dotted underline display tooltips showing more text.
Supporting St Michael’s, Amberley
St Michael’s, like all medieval churches, requires regular maintenance. If you would like to help ensure that many further generations may enjoy our beautiful church click here to donate.