This church, like so many other Anglo-Saxon churches, started out as a small wooden structure in the seventh century. Back then it was known as St. Mary's, and consisted of no more than a simple rectangular nave and chancel. It was rebuilt in stone by Eorl Godwin's grandfather, and in the time of Godwin's father a stone bell tower was added.
The church was recently renamed St. Alfheah's in honour of the saint and archbishop so cruelly martyred at Easter in 1012 at the hands of the Danes. Æthelred's long reign had a lot to answer for.
This church is the centre of much of the village's life, and serves the people's spiritual needs. The village priest, father Ælfstan, is an important member of the community. In times of war and the threat of raiding parties, men are detailed to act as lookout's from the tower. It enables them to see quite a distance down the river to the beginning of the estuary. Father Ælfstan maintains a choir of boys for the services, and insists that they practise fairly regularly.
Cynric the stone mason is presently working with Father Ælfstan and Godwin on the plans to expand the church. What Father Ælfstan has suggested to Godwin is that for elements of the service, 'Porticus' are needed either side of the 'Nave', just where the present door to the nave is. Bishop Thurlac has also spoken of the wonder of the Crypt at other churches he has visited. They apparently have holy relics stored in the crypt. The lay come down one staircase to pray, bring the ill to be made well again in front of the relics and then depart via another staircase opposite. On certain Holy days, the Bishop continues, the crypt has a queue waiting to view the relics. He relishes the devotion the lay show, but they take an awfully long time about it, which causes a certain amount of grumbling amongst the waiting parishioners. Godwin is not entirely convinced about the practicality of a crypt, as much as he might like one. He fully understands the problems that the tower imposes on the design of the church. And if the numbers of parishioners continues to grow as they have done just of late, it is the nave which will need improvement. On busy market days during the week, some locals have had to stand outside the front door for the service on Saints days. You can understand the complaints the locals made about the church being packed out by visitors leaving them standing outside in the rain.
Originally, all that graced this point in the village was a standing cross of stone, with carvings of the gospels on it for the lay. It was also painted in quite brilliant colours that made the scenes stand out. All of the services, so long as the weather wasn't against them, were held at the cross. Soon, beside the cross, a small wooden church was erected, and named St, Mary's. This coincided with the first building of the bridge and the increase in traffic at the small quay. At this point in Wichamstow's evolution, a fine carved stone font was donated to St. Mary's in Æthelstans time. In the reign of Eadred, the old wooden church which sat to one side of the present church, was superseded by the start of the building of the new stone church. One interesting fact is that when the foundations were dug, someone reviewed where west was, and decided after a great deal of rechecking that the first church didn't accurately face west. So the foundations were adjusted to suit the new evidence delaying the building work until the next year. The old stone cross was found to be falling apart and neglected, so it was included in with the building material of the stone church.
The tower that Godwin's father Forthere built, displays some interesting features. The corners of the tower have long and short quoining down their lengths and stripwork in between. The stripwork and the quoins are all rebated and stand proud of the stone infill to allow external plaster work to fill in between the strips. This external render is then coloured with the local earth colour to decorate the church. In this case the overall colour of the church is a pale yellow ochre, with oak shingles on the nave roof, which are now a dark silver grey shade. The upper levels of the tower have had a slight change in fashion with the inclusion of double belfry lights in the centre section and more complex belfry lights in the top level. This is the section Cynric constructed, following guidelines that Godwin set out. There was some discussion as to whether the old wooden pitched roof of the tower should be put back in it's old form, but this formal tower style was found to be more useful.
The old font was transferred to the new church, but suffered some damage as it was moved, which forced Godwin's grandfathers hand, causing it to be re-carved. This too is painted in just a gaudy fashion as it's predecessor. The walls of the Chancel at the top end of the church have large murals painted on the plasterwork. The murals illustrate some of Father Ælfstans favourite passages from the bible, which he often refers to during services when he try's to put the fear of God in his congregation. He shied away from scenes of hell though, as he felt that the church should comfort more than terrify the local populace. After all, the life they lived was often harsh enough. Above the Altar area, Godwin had a large wooden gilded crucifix made to hang from the roof beams, so that all the congregation could view it. It is just such carvings that the Vikings considered worth stealing, as they thought they were made of solid gold until they had ripped them down from their mountings in unfortunate churches. By then the damage was done, and they never bothered to replace them, which ensured that the church never regarded the Vikings with the remotest bit of sympathy and understanding.