Can you visit a church for the sake of art? In Sussex the answer is yes, indeed you can, and visiting churches is rewarding on many levels. But if you're an art-lover I recommend the Bloomsbury murals at St Michael & All Angels Church in the village of Berwick. Clearly the church has no issue with being a tourism focus since it offers guided talks for groups, by arrangement - the organiser can even offer advice on parking and local places to eat. Visitors flock to see the murals and while entry is free it's nice to leave a donation towards upkeep.
The little church itself is in a magnificent setting with views over the South Downs, and the current listed building is thought to be on a pre-Christian sacred site (as are many churches, in fact). At the time some people asked whether commissioning religious murals from a non-religious group would detract from the spiritual and religious elements, but to me it feels positive and inclusive. And what murals they are! Painted by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and her son Quentin Bell, these vibrant works of art soar around the nave walls, chancel arch, screen and pulpit. They're a whole decorative scheme rather than isolated paintings and they can feel overwhelming, so it's worth taking time and absorbing the effect before you study the detail. To me the impression is happy and uplifting, the brightness and colour lifting your eyes and your spirit upwards.
But if you simply love picturesque churches for their own sake, for your own reasons, Berwick is one of several in this area of the South Downs
that are well worth a visit. With their centuries-old architecture in glorious and peaceful settings, Sussex village churches are beautiful in their own right. A perfect day's exploring from your self-catering cottage.