The church we see today is substantially Anglo-Saxon throughout, putting it in the first rank of our Saxon architectural heritage. The original church of around AD700 was rectangular. Then a semi-circular apse was added, the foundations of which are still visible beyond the present east end. In the ninth century the apse was rebuilt as a seven-sided structure and decorated by pilaster strips. Two porticuses - side chapels - were also added on each side of the east end. The walls were then raised to their present impressive height. The tower was added in c10 based upon an existing porch - all of what we see today apart from the bell openings is original - and the easternmost side chapels removed, leaving just one on each side. The apse was replaced by today’s chancel, although we can still see the original arch that led through to it. In around 1200 the Saxon side walls were pierced by three arches on each side to allow the addition of north and south aisles. When we look at the picture of the west end below, we have to remember that that originally this would have been the original height and width of the church: the aisles came much later. Deerhurst, then, took the Anglo-Saxon love of high narrow naves to a breathtaking extreme.
The Saxon font is arguably the finest in existence and is reckoned to c9. As usual there is a “lost and found” story; on this occasion it was being being used as a drinking trough on a local farm when re-discovered over a 100 years ago!
The church is entered by the c14 west door in the base of the tower. This replaced the original doorway that was a little to its left. There is another Saxon doorway some 20 feet higher that would have led onto wooden balustrading from which the clergy would have shown the monastery relics to the lesser mortals below. Above the doorway to the nave is the remarkable Saxon sculpture of the Virgin with Child. Note, this is not Mary holding the baby Jesus, but with Him still in her womb - which is almost unique. The simplicity and economy of form in the sculpture and its unadorned humanity are both visually stunning and spiritually moving.
On either side of the inner doorway are the c9 “beast heads” - complete with vestiges of the original paint - which would originally have been “label stops” on either side of the original west door. The inner wall of the tower has a unique double triangular-headed window. Above this is a rectangular stone with indecipherable writing that is assumed to be a foundation stone. There is an internal doorway, now blocked off. Around this end of the nave three small triangular Saxon windows can be seen. This doorway and the triangular windows are evidence of a gallery that existed here and we can also see corbels at both internal corners that would have supported the floor. The arcading between nave and aisles is from around 1200 AD.
To the north east of the nave is an area of wall from which the Victorian plasterwork has been removed. This is part of an original Saxon porticus. Saxon herringbone masonry is visible here. To the right is a doorway that would have originally led to the main church. In front is doorway to the now ruined adjacent porticus. There are original aumbry cupboards in the wall for storing the sacramental goods.
Behind the altar is another massive, now-blocked, Saxon doorway that would have led to the original apse. It has monster” label stops at the ends of the arch. The apse itself is still visible. Best of all, a large part of the south-east wall remains, and high up on this wall is the “Deerhurst Angel” .