Christ Church Spitalfields
- Original design
- Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714
- Dow Jones Architects, 2015
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme in July.
I want to personally welcome you to Christ Church today. In 2004 this magnificent church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, was reopened following years of restoration; nearly three centuries after it was first consecrated on 5th June 1729. Christ Church was built as part of the Fifty New Churches commissioned in 1711, as part of Queen Anne’s vision for the ‘godless thousands’ who were flocking to London. Spitalfields was located strategically, near the outskirts of the city, and there was some suggestion (before the establishment of the West End) that it might become London’s fashionable society district. However, out of the fifty planned churches, only twelve were finished and of these Christ Church is arguably the most impressive.
An extensive restoration programme initiated in the 1970s brought Christ Church back to its former glory. Both inside and outside, the restoration has been led by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, with generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and many others. They have helped to ensure that this church will remain in use, and continue to serve its community, for centuries to come. But however beautiful and dramatic the structure, there has always been a sense that Christ Church is more than just a building. Between 1957 and 1987, while the main church was unfit for use, the congregation moved into Hanbury Hall, just north of here, where both Charles Dickens and John Wesley are known to have given talks. Today the church congregation is a vibrant mix of people who come from a diverse range of communities, and the building itself has been visited by thousands of people from around the world.
I very much hope that you will enjoy this wonderful building, and that you will consider joining us for worship on a Sunday morning at 10.30am.
Reverend Andy Rider
As you entered this church, you may have expected to encounter the austerity of a cathedral – and the simplicity and warmth of Christ Church may surprise you. Spending time in this building, I have come to enjoy the changing play of light through the windowsA and upon the stone floor as the hours of the day pass by. I hope you will feel relaxed as you wander around this building, and allow yourself to experience a sense of rest, peace, and spiritual nourishment.
In the VESTIBULE on your way in, you probably noticed the ten plaques placed there in 1897 by the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. These were taken from the Episcopal Jews Chapel in Palestine Place, Bethnal Green, and are a testimony to the Christian passion for the persecuted Jewish people. The Hebrew on the bottom of the right-hand plaque is taken from the Bible: ‘Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever’ (Daniel 12:3). The original stone FONT with its purple marble basin, used for baptising believers and their children, stands near to the entrance. This position represents baptism as a point of reception into the Christian faith, and as a symbol of new life in Jesus Christ. As you enter the nave of the church and look back and up, you will see the framework of the great ORGAN created by Richard Bridge. Installed in 1735, it had more than 2,000 pipes and was the largest organ in England at the time. (It is thought that the composer Handel, who had friends living in the parish, played it). The organ parts have been dismantled and are currently awaiting restoration.
The stone FLOOR was hand-cut and laid in 2004. It mixes five types of stone, taken from the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Thousands of years old (can you spot the fossilised fish in one of the slabs?), it points us to the eternal and unchanging nature of God: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8).
Along the north and south aisles run the GALLERIES. These were dismantled and rebuilt by the Victorians under the architect Ewan Christian, but twenty-seven of the wooden brackets (cartoozes) below the gallery fronts are the originals. Each of the eleven new brackets took three weeks to carve, a task carried out by a father-and-son team in Somerset, in an age-old tradition that goes back to the time of Jesus and his carpenter father Joseph.
As you look towards the front of the church and lift your eyes, you will see above the chancel beam a lion and a unicorn made of Coade stone, part of the magnificent COAT OF ROYAL ARMS in use between 1816 and 1837. Although the coat of arms is not of Queen Anne, this god-fearing monarch was greatly concerned that, as one of her incumbents noted, there were ‘many score thousands of people who scarcely in their whole lives so much as peep into a church’. As parishes were responsible for public welfare, and law and order, the government was anxious to counter the negative effects of over-population, bring morality back into the everyday lives of the city’s people, and encourage the building of churches.
Beyond the coat of arms is the wonderfully colourful STAINED GLASS WINDOW (designed by Messrs Ward and Hughes of Soho Square in 1876) whose central theme is of the ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven, watched by his disciples, where he is greeted by the saints and martyrs who have gone before. Around this are biblical episodes from the life of Jesus, while the semi-circular window above shows a dove – symbolising the Holy Spirit as he alighted on Jesus during his baptism – and a crown, illustrating his lordship.
The plasterwork of the CEILING is a medley of flowers and castellations. It is difficult to spot two flowers which are identical: a theme that reflects on the congregation below, where each person brings his or her own beauty, gifting and talents, experiences and abilities to contribute.
If you are wondering where the PEWS are, you can find some early (and restored) examples up in the galleries. At nave level, traditionally there would have been wooden boxed pews, raised on a plinth. These were of an era when people paid ‘pew rents’ and the rich would have had a box (as at the opera or the ballet) while the poor were consigned to a simple bench. Today at Christ Church, we recognise that the Christian gospel doesn’t treat people as different because of their worldly wealth, but as unique: each person is made in the image of God, and so is special and precious.
On the CHANCEL STEP are two large monuments, one to Edward Peck and one to Sir Robert Ladbroke. Peck, described as a ‘gentleman and Christian’, was one of the men who commissioned the new churches, and it was he who laid the foundation stone of Christ Church in 1729. Ladbroke, a Lord Mayor of London, was married to the granddaughter of Edward Peck (Elizabeth). Beyond the chancel lies the SANCTUARY with its carved wooden reredos. Each of the octagonal columns comprises several sections of oak, bound tightly together and lathed into tapered cylinders.
The COMMUNION TABLE is where Christians celebrate the eucharist, an act of thanksgiving for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His body and his blood are symbolised by the bread and wine, which are to be found on this table during the communion service. Above the table is a CROSS, by which we remember the death of Jesus. Some people like to pause for a few minutes to consider it, or to kneel at the rail and quietly come before God in their own moment of prayer. ‘As I bow in the quiet room I have made in my heart, O Lord let the hush of thy presence fall upon me.’
L Weatherhead 1883-1975