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Knights Templar: St.Mary’s at Shipley

It is said Hugh de Payens, founder and Grand Master of the Knights Templar, visited West Sussex in the late 1120’s.

St.Mary’s Church at Shipley in West Sussex has to be one of the oldest Templar Churches still standing to this day.  The nave – tower and chancel are believed to date back to 1140.

What we here is a tall yet roomy church with a central tower with two supporting arches.  The size reflects the growing power and prestige associated with the Order of the Knights Templar, a symbol of its enduring faith.  This plain design seems very appropriate for this monastic order, which prides itself with simplicity and integrity.

The original manor and land was given to the ‘Order of the Knights Templar’ in 1139 by Philip de Braose, gifted in words:

I give and grant unto God and to the blessed Mary and the soldiers of the Temple of Solomon.  For ever in perpetual alms a certain portion of earthly lands which God has granted me to possess in this world namely the land of HERSCHAPELIA (Shipley) and the church…

Shipley in the main was an agricultural preceptor, and its name comes from the Old English ‘sceapleah’ which means a place where sheep are kept.  The village of Shipley still exists to this day, along with St.Mary’s Parish Church.

The Church of St.Mary’s is known for its Romanesque features; the arch of the west door, corbels located on the supporting arches of the tower.

A Templar mooring on the River Adur, or smaller tributaries which flows through the village.

Templar trace evidence in the form of a moat to the north and east of the church, and fishponds to the southeast.

A 13th century reliquary, made of Limoges in the form of a casket, with a pitched roof in copper and enamelled with Saints and the Crucifixion in gold and blue.  Sadly, all that remains is a replica, for the original was stolen in 1976.

At the time of the Templars arrest, the manor was valued at £8, church at £13 and goods at £73.

Following the suppression of the Knights Templar, trouble emerged, who might use the Order’s property, before it was seized by the ‘Order of the hospitallers, and held until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Located to the west of the church, stood a modern structure, an 1879 windmill, once home to the writer; Hilaire Belloc and later the fictional home of Jonathan Creek.

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