Monday, 30 January 2012

Blackburn Cathedral

Blackburn has been a Christian site since the 5th century, yet it is home to one of England’s newest and smallest Cathedrals. This remarkable building is a mixture of Victorian and late 20th century architecture, and possesses an impressive array of modern religious art.


A church was recorded in Blackburn, possibly on the same site as the Cathedral, as early as 596AD. The parish church of St Mary the Virgin was erected in Norman times and enlarged throughout the mediaeval period, but the expansion of Blackburn in the 19th century resulted in a completely new church being erected on the site in 1820-26, designed by John Palmer.

In 1926 the Diocese of Blackburn was formed and the church became elevated to Cathedral status. Plans were put in place to enlarge it so that it could perform its new duties, and work began in 1938, but was not completed until the 1970s. The distinctive lantern tower, in the shape of a crown, was designed by Laurence King after the death of the original architect W A Forsyth.

The Church

The tower and nave survive from Palmer’s original church, and are in the Decorated Gothic style. For its date, these are remarkably faithful to the mediaeval form. The transepts, chapels and chancel are in a more spare 20th Century Gothic, but the lantern, with its slender aluminium spire, is unashamedly modernist.

Inside the church, the immediate impression is one of space and light: all the glass in the nave is clear, and the interior is whitewashed throughout. The rib vaults of Palmer’s elegant nave and aisles are picked out in gold and red, to stunning effect.

Furnishings are mostly modern: the high altar is situated beneath the lantern, surmounted by a corona (hanging crown) and on the west wall is the huge sculpture of Christ the Worker; both are by John Hayward, who also designed the striking stained glass of the lantern and south transept window. The only old furnishings are a set of 15th century misericords in the north transept, thought to have come from Whalley Abbey. The west window in the south transept also has some fragments of mediaeval glass. The church has a number of other modern religious sculptures and paintings.

Beneath the church is a crypt with a very popular café. The church is open to visitors every day, and has a cycle of daily services (see website).

Cathedral Close, Blackburn BB1 5AA

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cathedral Church of St Peter, Bradford

Formerly the parish church, St Peter's became the Cathedral of the new dioceses of Bradford in 1919. The building has an intimate interior with a 15th core, striking 20th century extensions, and some interesting fittings and furnishings.


There has probably been a church on the site since 8th century: the remains of two Anglo-Saxon crosses have been found on the site, one of which is incorporated into the present fabric. Described as 'waste' in Domesday, there may nevertheless have been a manor chapel on the site, and a church was recorded here in 1281.

Rebuilding commenced in in the 14th century: the present nave arcades were completed by 1458, and a clerestory was added later in the same century. The church also had chantry chapels, and the tower was completed in 1508. The church was bombarded by Royalist forces in the Civil War, when wool-sacks were hung to protect it. The roof was rebuilt in the 18th century, and the exterior considerably tidied up in the 1830s.

The church was elevated to Cathedral status in 1919, and extensions to the Chancel and West end were added in the 1950s to designs by Sir Edward Maufe. The Cathedral was rededicated in its present form in 1963.

The church

From the outside, the modern extensions are in a reasonably sympathetic but very spare neo-Gothic style, and contrast strongly with the Victorian and mediaeval elements. The site is slightly unfortunate in that the east end now abuts a busy main road; the church is best appreciated from the green on the north side, from which viewpoint it reflects its origins as a substantial parish church.

The interior is dominated by the handsome nave, of eight bays of regular Gothic arches, supported on delicate quatrefoil piers. The walls of the nave and aisles are heavily scraped, and give it a rather rustic feel - in sharp contrast to the tall and clean chancel, which is plastered and whitewashed. There are chapels in the transepts, as well as three new chapels attached to the Chancel, dedicated to St Aidan, the Holy Spirit and St Mary.

The church has a very rich and extensive collection of 18th and 19th century memorials, and glass by Kempe and William Morris. In the north ambulatory are the remains of an Anglian preaching cross. The Bishop's Chair (the Cathedra) has a tall canopy and an interesting bench end, with an image of the old tower, above a rock containing a dragon. The most striking modern furnishing is the Celtic Cross behind the altar of St Aidan's chapel, by Chris Shawcross, depicting people on their pilgrimage, towards an image of Mary and the infant Jesus.

The Cathedral is open every day (limited access on Sundays, only to services) and has a regular cycle of daily services and special events (details on the website).

Stott Hill, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD1 4EH

Monday, 2 January 2012

St Michael, Camden

St Michael's is the parish church of Camden, and is located (though easily missed) next to Sainsbury's. It has a lively congregation and an active social outreach into the local community.


The nave was built in 1880-1 and the sanctuary in 1893-4 to plans by the prolific church architect George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907) and Thomas Garner, with whom he had a 28-year professional partnership. A planned tower was never built. St Michael's subsumed the parish of All Saints in the 1950s, and since 2003 has been part of a team ministry with St Pancras Old Church, St Mary's Somers Town and St Paul's Camden Square.

The church

The church is orientated north-south, with the liturgical west end facing the road. The church is built of yellow stock brick with stone dressings in the Decorated Gothic style. Both the west window and the clerestory windows over the aisles have delicate geometric tracery and have recently been restored.

Inside, the stone-lined interior consists of a nave of 5 bays, which draws the eye to the large sanctuary: Bodley did not include a chancel arch in the scheme, so the nave and sanctuary form a single, unified space. The height of the nave is emphasised by the fact that the floor is lower than the street outside. There is a small stone-vaulted chapel to the north of the sanctuary.

The interior has interesting decorative stencilling, but is generally in need of some restoration. Fittings and furnishings include the original altar of 1880, and a selection of statues, some in the pre-Raphaelite style (though that of St George dates from 1939); an attractive coloured pulpit; a marble altar and Easter Sepulchre in the north chapel; and a brass to Edward Bainbridge Reynolds, incumbent, who died in 1907.

The church has a flourishing congregation, with worship in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and the adjacent centre provides a range of outreach services for the local community.

Camden Road, Camden, London NW1 9LQ