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St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey aren’t the only sights in London for people interested in churches and cathedrals.
Visitors to the main sights in London should always be aware that there is a historical church close by. These smaller churches aren’t as famous as St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, but you won’t have to pay to go inside and you could well be the only person there. However, these churches will give an insight into London’s unique history and bring you closer to local legends and characters. Take a moment here to gather your thoughts and to reflect upon what you have seen, before dashing off to the next sight.
The 590-foot Swiss Re building is an eye-catching structure even in a city like London. “The Gherkin”, as it’s sometimes called, sits on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992 and eventually demolished in 1998. The nearby church of St Ethelburga, which survived both the Great Fire and the Blitz of WWII, was destroyed in 1993 by a bomb. Today, the new church has become a centre for peace and reconciliation, which is open to visitors on Fridays. In 1607 Henry Hudson, of Hudson River fame, and the crew of the Hopewell took their final communion here before setting off to find the North-West passage to India.
In an island in the middle of The Strand near The Royal Courts of Justice and Twinings Tea Shop sits the Church of St Clement Danes. Destroyed during the Blitz, the church was given to the RAF in the 1950s and commemorates the 120,000 Air Force personnel who died during the conflict. Though not the St Clement’s church mentioned in the nursery rhyme, the church bells play “Oranges and Lemons” at various times of the day.
A further 100 yards towards the City is found the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar. The Church is in two parts: the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Jerusalem. Its recent publicity in relation to the Da Vinci Code has meant more visitors to this church, but it’s still an incredible oasis of calm not fifty yards from the busy streets. A column outside the church marks the point where the Great Fire of London was finally extinguished. Atop the column is a small statue of two knights riding a horse, showing that the Templars couldn’t always afford to own a horse and had to share. Nearby is the Inner Temple Hall, where Mahatma Gandhi studied in the late 1880s.
Visitors to the Victoria and Alberta Museum or Natural History Museum in South Kensington should make sure to visit The Brompton Oratory, which is also close to Harrods. The Oratory was built in 1884 and thus became the first Catholic Church to be built in England after the Reformation. The style is Italianate Baroque and is an exact imitation of the Gesu church in Rome. Some beautiful, exported genuine Italian fittings predate the building. A colourful ceiling curves up a dome that’s 50 metres in diameter.
The First Commission
The first commission to build a cathedral was given in 1853 to Edward Pugin (1833-1875), son of Augustus Pugin, the man who had helped design the Houses of Parliament in London in the 1830s. Initially, it was decided the cathedral should be built in the grounds of a seminary at one of the older mansions in Liverpool, San Domingo House, which stood on a ridge in the Everton district.
Within three years the first part of Pugin’s design, The Lady Chapel, had been built. However, as Liverpool’s Catholic population increased, the diocese’s priorities changed – schools and orphanages became more important than the cathedral. So, The Lady Chapel stood in splendid isolation and served as the parish church of Our Lady Immaculate until it was demolished in the 1980s.
It wasn’t until the late 1920s that a combination of a charismatic Archbishop, Doctor Richard Downey, a renewed enthusiasm for a centre of worship due to the centenary of Catholic emancipation, and the availability of a suitable site at the top of Brownlow Hill, convinced people that the dream of a Catholic cathedral should be revived.
Sir Edwin Lutyens
Famous for his construction of The Cenotaph in Whitehall, London and the government buildings in New Delhi, India, Lutyens was the man entrusted with the task. On the 5th of June 1933, the foundation stone of the cathedral was laid. The building was to be dedicated to Christ the King, at the suggestion of Pope Pius XI.
The piece de resistance of Lutyens’ design was a dome 168 feet in diameter with a height of 300 feet. The High Altar was to be twelve feet above the nave and would be one of 53 altars in total. Lutyens also wanted a narthex at the western end of his cathedral that would be open to the poor 24 hours a day. However, the war intervened and building of The Crypt ceased. Then in 1944 Lutyens died.
After the war The Crypt was completed, but escalating building costs meant that Lutyens’ grand design had to be scaled back. The ideas of Adrian Gilbert Scott, brother of the architect of the Anglican Cathedral, for changing Lutyens’ design met with heavy criticism and the project was held in abeyance. And then Doctor John Heenan succeeded as Sixth Archbishop of Liverpool.
Dr Heenan decided that a competition should take place. So, in 1960, architects were invited to submit designs for a Catholic Cathedral for Liverpool which would be sympathetic to the existing crypt, cost no more than a million pounds, and be built within five years.
The winning design from the hundreds from all over the world was that of Sir Frederick Gibberd. Building began in October 1962 and on the 14th May 1967, the Cathedral was consecrated. In a neat closing of the circle, the Papal Legate at the consecration was Cardinal Heenan. Liverpool’s wait for a catholic Cathedral was over.
The airport express train takes less than 25 minutes to the city centre, so with hours before your next flight there is time for a flying visit to cafes and sights – and maybe even some shopping.
Julian Worker has written a number of travel books including
First Airlines in Tokyo offers visits to Paris and New York while on board a simulated plane.
Julian Worker has written a number of travel books including
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