IS SOMPTING CHURCH PROTECTED BY THE KNIGHT TEMPLARS?
The village located between Lancing and Worthing at the foothills of the South Downs has the unusual name of Sompting. It is mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, as Sultinges and being in the Hundred of Brightford. The name is thought to derive from the Old English for dwellers by the marsh (Sompt+ingas). The south Saxons settled in this part of Sussex around 550AD, and most probably built a small timber framed church where the unusual tower stands today, occupying a rather isolated position, because since 1939, the church has been separated from the village by the busy A27. The tower standing eighty feet (25 metres) high is an earliest example of a ‘Rhenish Helm’ – a four sided gabled pyramidal cap which is unique England and is thought to have been built in stages, constructed from flint bonded with lime mortar to a thickness of 3 feet (92 centimetres).
The Anglo Saxon church of St Mary the Virgin is a Grade 1 listed building, built by the Saxons in around 960 A.D The church was adapted by the Normans in 1154 when William de Braose granted it to the Order of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a Crusading Order of fighting monks known as the Templars, and is the oldest and most extraordinary church associated with this ancient order. Then in 1324, under the International ruling of the Pope, all Templar properties were assigned to another Order of Crusaders, the order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights of St John or the Hospitallers and Knight Templars graves have been found in the grounds of the church. The Hospitallers chapel attached to the north wing of the church continues today in its original role as a chapel for the St John’s Ambulance.
Whilst there are no official reports of ghosts in the vicinity people have reported seeing what they described as a dark shadow flitting from tree to tree which has followed them as they approach the church from the A27. As with many churches and grounds associated with the Knights Templar it is said that they guard their properties in death as they did in life. Some mediums have reported seeing shadowy figures standing at the four corners of the church watching that no trouble is caused to their departed comrades, and back in August 2004 a group from the then C O T C, Children of the City Paranormal Investigations and WSPI, West Sussex Paranormal Investigations, visited the church and churchyard.
One of the group reported what he could only describe as a dark figure standing next to a bush. Was this a trick of the light or did he really see a ghostly figure? As they headed towards the church via the graveyard another of the party saw lights on the ground. At first they thought it may be torch lights, but these lights were different, more like pin pricks of light than beams from a torch. As they approached a grave another in the group got a strange feeling as though the grave was giving off energy, and as he got closer the energy got much stronger. They read the gravestone and established that he had no links with the woman buried there, so why was he feeling this strange power? They then decided to move towards the church and as they did C saw a head bobbing along the other side of the stone wall. They checked where everyone was at the time and discovered that no one was near where C had seen the head. One of the women in the group walked to the trees near the car park
claiming it was a hanging tree. Whilst the group stood looking at it, C saw a figure and from the description it matched perfectly with the figure that another member of the group had seen standing next to a bush earlier in the night. The group found a suitable spot to hold a séance near the church, and linked hands. The name ‘Jack’ was mentioned and it was not until later that they discovered that C’s grandfather was known as ‘Jack’. One started to channel the spirit who sounded very scared, and they felt it was crying, and the words, ‘he’s coming’ and then the word ‘murder’ were uttered. As this was taking place C felt it was the spirit of a young girl and all agreed that it was definitely a female spirit. Could it have been someone who had been murdered and buried at St Mary’s still being haunted by her killer? C started to see the spirit lights again in the direction of the grave that had made him feel so strange earlier on, and a closer look at the grave revealed that it was the grave of a lady who had died in 2000 and fresh flowers had been placed on the grave. Could it have been the anniversary of her death that was causing all the energy? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.