Most of the remaining churches in Lewes date from medieval times, when most of the timbered Saxon chapels and churches that existed were replaced. Originally there were ten Saxon churches inside the town walls and four outside the walls.
St John Sub Castro
The present church, built in 1839 was constructed in a North - South direction whilst the Old church was in an East - West direction with a nave that dated back to the Saxon era. It was the oldest part of any church still standing in Lewes and built about the time of King Alfred. On the outside wall of the old nave was a unique plaque in Latin dedicated to Prince Magnus of the Royal House of Denmark who became an anchorite here in Lewes. This medieval Lombardic inscription was later incorporated in the East Wall of the New Church. The rest of the old church was built on the Saxon foundations in medieval times. The area of the churchyard formed an entrenched angle in the town's medieval defences and is believed to be part of the Earthworks of a Roman fort built to guard the old river crossing.
This church stands in the busy High Street of Lewes, at the foot of the mound bearing the keep of the Norman Castle, and is distinguished by its slender shingled spire rising from the top of a round flint tower (only two others like it in Sussex). Believed to have been instituted as 'the church of the castle', the expression "tanquam matrici ecclesie" (Mother Church) in the 16th century seems to imply that it held a position of seniority in the town. By the time of the Reformation, St Michaels was in a deplorable condition and its fortunes suffered another serious setback during the Puritan revolution as the citizens of the town remained predominantly Dissenters. In 1748 extensive building works were carried out (rebuilding of South Aisle, with two doors onto the street) and from the incumbency of Frederick Teed (1841 - 1863) a number of changes began to be made to the liturgy and furnishings which reflected the catholicising influence of Newman and Pusey. Much of the churches present-day character is thanks to the Rev Edgar Herman Cross (1877 - 1891).
St John the Baptist (Southover)
This church is all that remains of the great Cluniac Priory that was built in 1078 by William de Warren, Earl of Surrey, and the lady Gundreda his wife. It had also a priory of Grey Friars, a monastery dedicated to St James for thirteen poor bretheren and sisters, and an 'Hospitium' dedicated to St Nicholas, which at the time of the dissolution also had thirteen poor brothers and sisters. The 12th century nave arcade, with short drum piers and unmoulded arches, perhaps divided the men's from the women's ward. The Neo-Norman South Chapel (1847) was built by John Latter Parsons of Eastgate, Lewes, and houses the bones of William and Gundrada Warenne unearthed in two lead cists by railway navies whilst constructing the Lewes to Brighton Railway through the site of the Priory Chapter house. On the floor of the chapel lies the original black Tournai Marble tombstone from the Priory carved to the memory of the Lady Gundreda.
Built outside the Town walls in the 12th century and originally known as St Peters and St Mary Westout, this church is a splendid example of Norman architecture with its small rounded doorway and its solid carved interior columns. The chancel was rebuilt in the 13th century. The 12th century font has some fine old carvings. The church roof dates from the 16th century. In the 12th century the church was home to an anchoress who allowed herself to be walled up in a tiny cell by the chancel wall, with only a small window. Her little cold cell became her coffin.
St Thomas's in the Cliffe
Situated across the river in the old parish of Cliffe, this church was thought to be founded by the Canons of Malling who came under Christchurch Canterbury. Like the church of St Michael's in South Malling, St Thomas's in the Cliffe came under the Rape of Pevensey, the river Ouse being the boundary between the Rapes of Pevensey and Lewes. The church was built in honour of the martyred Archbishop in the late 12th century. According to legend, after the murder of Becket by the knights of Henry II, the guilty knights fled from Canterbury to the Benedictine. Inside the church there is a copy of a charter granted to the Archbishop in 1409 by Henry IV enabling the parish to hold a weekly market in the market house on the High Street, east of the chancel; and two annul fairs in the fairplace to the north where stand the church hall and the Fire Engine Shed.
St Michael's, South Malling
In the early Saxon period a church is said to have been erected at South Malling to St Michael the Archangel. Some historians believe it was founded by Caedwalla, King of the West Saxons (abdicated in 688) whilst others believe the foundation is ascribed to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, acknowledged and confirmed by Stephen in 1143. The church was a collegiate one, and in the Domesday Book the canons of Malling are recorded to have held four hides in the manor. The medieval church, Saxon in origin was pulled down in 1550 and the funding for rebuilding in 1626-8 was provided by John Stansfield a Puritan.
This chapel was built by public subscription in 1805. It is one of Lewes's few Grade One listed buildings and has recently been restored. The timber built building is quite unique; its north facing wall has the largest expanse of mathematical tiles to be seen anywhere and the wooden interior gives the building a true non-conformist flavour. The small graveyard holds the tomb of the celebrated William Huntington.
The earliest mention of All Saints is in the 13th Century, and when the church was rebuilt at the end of the 14th century, only the tower remained from the earlier building. The small adjacent parish of St Nicholas was added to All Saints in the Middle Ages, at which the renowned St Nicholas Bell Gabriel was salvaged, and, much later in history, was hung in the Market Tower. All Saints was again rebuilt in 1806 and the present Chancel added in 1883. Both of these changes must have radically altered the layout of the churchyard because pre 1883 prints show numerous Alter Tombs in the space now taken up by the chancel. The graveyard was very congested throughout the Victorian Period. The Church is presently used as an Arts Centre.