Saturday, 9 June 2018

Church of Our Lady of the Pillar, Valletta

Valletta is full of Baroque! The whole islands of Malta and Gozo are punctuated by massive Baroque churches with domes all trying to outdo each other in their communion with the heavens.  My first post about Malta is not going to be about the great churches like St John's Pro Cathedral in Valletta ; instead a small church in one of the side streets. I came across it early one morning before 8.00. Its quiet atmosphere with local people in prayer was deeply moving. Malta is full of such churches and is strongly Catholic. If I think of Valletta I flash back to that morning - quiet and sunny, nestling in the centre of the Mediterranean.

The Church of Our Lady of the Pillar was financed by the Aragonese Kights of St John and built in the 1670s; damaged in the earthquake of 1693 and remodelled by Ramano Carapecchia. The main painting, depicting Our Lady appearing to St James is by Stefano Erardi. The ceiling was painted by Gian Nikola Buhagiar and depicts the coronation of Our Lady.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

St George's Church, Bloomsbury, London

All Hawksmoor's churches are quirky. That's probably why I like them. St George's is perhaps the weirdest of all. Near the British Museum it might be expected to be on the tourist list. (Apparently some tourists even mistake it for the British Museum!)Alas it is more often passed by and the exterior can still give an air of neglect. Despite major resoration and reopening in 2006  it is often closed to visitors. The opening of a Comedy Museum underneath might have led it to be more often visited. It also contains a fascinating exhibition about the church.

It is the last and most complex of the 6 churches Hawksmoor designed in London.It is one of the churches built by the Commission of 1711 to provide for the expansion of London east and west. (12 were built in all from 1716 to 1731). I am not clear how it obtained its original appearance and why it was given a spire relating to the Mausoleum at Harlicarnassus with George I on top! It is so unlike Christchurch Spitalfields or St Mary Woolnoth. Mind you those are also unusual too to put it mildly!
The mighty portico at the front could have been modelled on the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbeck in the Lebanon.

Sir John Vanbrugh had earlier submitted a design in 1715 which had been accepted. It was a constricted  site and a north south orientation seemed the best solution. Apparently the site was not yet paid for and Vanbrugh's plans were set aside in favour of those of Nicholas Hawksmoor. Work started in 1716 with a portico and entrance at the front at right angles to the axis of the church, spire at the side, and altar at the east end. By 1721 church and tower were at cornice level, ready to roof in 1723 and the steeple built 1724. Consecration came in 1731.

 Hawksmoor had the altar in the east in an apse with a carved wooden reredos, and semi-dome   enriched with cherubs, ears of wheat,  mires, croziers, clouds and a pelican. When entering from the portico there was a gallery overhead and opposite. Parishioners also had a west gallery added later.In 1780 the orientation of the seating was moved north-south and the altar and reredos moved. In Victorian times more changes were made to accomodate the larger congregation. In the 1970s a decoration scheme also changedthe character of the interior.

It was ripe for restoration and the World Monuments Fund stepped in. Generous donations from the estate of Paul Mellon, the Heritage Lottery Fund, and many others have enabled World Monuments Fund to restore the building, enhancing its architectural significance and enabling greatly enhanced use by both the local community and many others.

For more detail and excellent photos see the World Monuments Fund site.

If you are fortunate enough to get inside today you are in for a treat. This interior has real splendour and atmosphere.A splendid 17th century chandelier from a church in the Netherlands on long loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum enlightens the nave. The  reredos from Hawksmoor's time is back in the east end. Made of  West Indian mahogany it depicts John the Baptist, St Philip, and the Holy Family. A joy to see rather than the customary Ten  Commandments in our London Baroque churches!

The tip of the spire with Georege ! just  appearing at th top of SDhaftesbury Avenue

The grandiose front of St George's
The portico

Looking out

The majestic interior

View as you enter

Into the vault

View down toward the altar and reredos

The reredos

THe 18th century pulpit

View from altar back toward the tower

View in 1799                                        Temple at Baalbek

These plans show how the internal layout was altered from Hawkesmoor's original intentions  so that the altar was on the north wall facing you as yiu enter and the galleries were over the west and east sides. This has been reversed and what you see today is the altar resored in the east side and seating west to east.

A significant day for St George's : funeral of Emily Davison, the Suffraagette who ran in front of the King's horse at the Grand National in 1913

Here is a link to the tragic story of how Emily Davison ran into the front of the King's horse during a race at Epsom in 1913.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

St Mary Woolnoth Church, London

Right in the centre of the City with Bank tube underneath it, stands a quite remarkable Hawksmoor Church. Perhaps you either love it or hate it because it is so different. The simplest and smallest of his London churches it is yet so implacable.

The photos are my own taken In April 2018

As you come out of the tube.....

Here it is! The simplest and smallest of Hawkesmoor's his London churches
it is yet so implacable.

Side view

The view most seen  by Londoners unless driving.....

A previous church on the site had survived the Great Fire of 1666 and had even been restored by Wren. By the early 18th century it was in a poor state and had to be replaced. Hawksmoor's design was begun in 1716, the walls completed by 1723 and by 1727 all finished and ready for use. It is Hawksmoor's only City of London church and the only one in the City to escape the Second World War totally unscathed.It was one of the Queen Anne Commission churches with a prominrnt position at the junction of Lombard Street and King William Street.
The whole place was nearly demolished in the 1890s to make way for the underground Bank station.This caused an outcry. The church was saved ; an exit was created from the Tube.

Side view showing a tube exit and a Starbucks !

Main entrance to the church now contains a privately owned coffee stall.....
As can be seen the church is presently surrounded by coffee outlets! This is apparently what modern Londoners want! Even the entrance porch! Before I get too aereated about this, churches were surrounded by commercial outlets in previous centuries as well : but not in the porch I suspect...

Look at those columns
The interior is quite small and square : yet the 12 giant Corinthian columns in clusters of thress at the edges of the nave give it great magnificence. Some might think it more reminiscent of a ballroom. It could derive from an Egyptian temple described by Vetruvius. The reredos, pulpit and plaster ceiling are original.Unfortunately the 1870s saw the removal of the box pews and the galleries. It is still a magnificent space to behold.
Looking back toward the entrance and organ
High altar with Ten Commandments

Looking back toward entrance gallery with organ

Ceiling emphasises the central space as a square 

This view shows a doors at centre which would originally have given
access to a gallery which has been removed.

Finally if you fancy a walk round try some of this video. Its not by me and is too long but gives some idea of the magnificence of the real thing

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Kloster Wald

Our camping stay in the Black Forest and other parts of Baden-Wurttemberg in summer 2017 had turned into something like a Baroque church crawl by the time we reached this specimen. We left our tent in Sigmaringen, clutching a tour map of local Baroque churches. We soon landed in this small village dominated by this former nunnery with its church. It was almost surreal. 

Founded as a Cistercian nunnery in 1212 it grew into being a major local landowner;  was wrecked in the Thirty Years War (1618-48); rebuilt in Baroque syle ; closed in 1806, and has been re-invented as a girls' high school with the church dedicated to St Bernard fully restored to general use. It is a single aisle church with nuns' gallery at the back. It was Abbess Jakobe von Bodman who had the church rebuilt from 1698. The architect was Jos Beer, a member of the well-known Vorarlberg building family. Abbess Antonia von Falkenstein   had the great Baroque monastery completed  1721-7.

There was a Rococo stucco makeover by Johann Jakob Schwarzmann in 1753 with frescos started by Johann Melchior Eggmann and completed by Meinrad von Au, a local artist from Sigmaringen.
The main fresco is of St Humbelina visiting her brother St Bernard.  Johann Michael Schadel painted and gilded the wooden sculptures.

So much for the history but what did I take back from it all? The nuns' gallery with its grill ; 
the unique organ by Johann Georg Aichgasser dating from 1751;  and the so elegant abbess's gallery overlooking the proceedings. Alas I did not hear the organ, nor get my fingers near it and can find no recording. 
Only one, well two, items jarred. Vatican Two has meant that Mass is consecrated facing the people and the altar is brought forward. A stark, if small, altar  and a lectern in plain modern stone had been added.Unobtrusive at a distance but on inspection, questiionable, at least to me. 

General view toeward high altar

The Abbess sat above in her gallery

Another view toward high altar and new altar

Note the new altar and lectern

High altar

Remains of an early saint at a side altar

Nuns' balcony and organ of 1751

Ceiling fresco of St Humbelina visiting her brother St Bernard

Time to move on : last look at the gallery

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Fruenkirche, Dresden

The Frauenkirche in Dresden is a very special place. the site held the first church in Dresden ; an 18th century rebuild resulted in the greatest Baroque Protestant  church in Germany ; it was reduced to piles of rubble in 1945 and arose anew respendent in the early 21st century. It occupies a special place in the hearts of Germans and in mine too as I shall explain.
My first visit to Dresden was in August 1989 and the church was a pile of rubble. My photos will show this. I parked my car nearby and went to mass in the Hofkirche. On my return the date 25 Feb 1945 was scratched on my bonnet with a small swastika! I would never have forgotten Dresden anyway but I vowed to return and hoped to see the church rebuilt. We returned in early summer rain in 2006, and again for the Christmas market in 2016. The transformation is terrific. The building was filled with onlookers both times. Concerts were sold out. I was amzed to find that Zelenka's rare oratorio Il Serpe de Bronzo was full so I never heard it! 

I  know the outline of the Frauenkirche very well now because the image to your left is a model which i made from a cardboard kit. It is an unusual hobby and this one was not easy. It stands only about 10 inches high and the photo is taken in our garden! Normally it lives in a prime spot inside.
The medieval church on the site became Evangelical Lutheran in 1539. By the 18th century it was in a terrible state and a disgrace in the centre of the majestic Baroque capital which Elector Frederick Augustus the Strong was trying to build.Therefore he agreed with the town council that it be demolished and a new  more suitable one be built. A commission was given to George Bahr, the council's carpenter in 1722. The plans were adapted several times over the 17 years it took to buld following the foundation in 1726. It was consecrated in 1734 (most of it) with an inner dome and no altar or organ. The speedy consecration was the town's reaction to Augustus's expedient conversion to Catholicism so he could be King of Poland too. The installation of the tower cross in 1743 marked the end of the construction. Bahr had died back in 1738 so others finished his work. He must have been a remakable man transferring his carpenter's skill into a stone dome to rival the Duomo in Florence, and St Peter's in Rome. He lived to see that at least. Also involved was the State architect Johann Christoph Knoffel. The remarkable dome or "stone bell" was Bahr's idea. Sandstone was used. Alas cracks appeared and gaetano Chiaveri, architect of the Hofkirche, recommended a wooden dome instead. The cracks were sealed and later in the Seven Years'War cannon balls bounced off it and even in 1945 it was not the bombs which finished it off.

The nave has a relatively small ground plan of 45 by 45 metres and it is the  37 metre rise of the inner dome and onward to 68 metre main dome which astonishes us. The colour scehme becomes more radiant toward the altar and instils a memory of white and gold. 
Seven doors were made so that all should feel welcome with some 3200 seats originally : now 1800. The weight of the outer dome is linked to the exterior. There are five semicircular galleries. THe emphasis is on the pul[pit - the Lueran idea of the word of God at the centre.
on 13 Feb 1945 heavy bombing detroyed the centre of Dresden. The bombsa bounced off the dome but fire penetrated the windows and burnt the wooden structure and furnishings. On the morning of 15 Feb 1945 about 10 o clock, the gutted dome collapsed. After the end of the War Dresden became part of the GDR and ion 1966 the ruined church was  classified as a memorial. 

This was the not the end of the story! In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down : Germany was reunited. In 1990 a worldwide call went out to reconstruct the Frauenkirche. Enough was collected to enable the work to start in 1993. They reused as much of the original as possible and this accounts for the mottled effect today. As far as possible they have tried to recreate the original,utilising modern technology and paying attention to constructive use of the building. The exterior dome was finished in June 2004 and the interior consectrated in October 2007.
Large pieces of the 1738 altar have been reused. The original Silbermann organ of 1736 has been replaced by a spendid one by Daniel Kern of Strasbourg. It does not vclaim to reproduce the sound of the original or the same technology.  It is a completrely modern 4790 pupe organ with 4 manuals and 67 registers. Listen for yourself later!

The inner dome has 8 pictorial sections with the 4 evangelists and 4 allegoroes (faith, hope, love, mercy) in an imitatoioin of the original of Johann Battista Grone.
The exterior tower cross fell and has been salvaged and a new one raised : a gift from the British people.It iwas made at Grant MacDonald in Bear Lane off Southwark Street in Soutthwark, just down the road from London South Bank University, where I worked for 19 years. Craftsman Alan Smith spent eight months building the six foot cross and orb in stainless steel and copper to the original 18th-century design.
His father Frank flew a Lancaster bomber in the 1945 raid that destroyed 80 per cent of the city including the Frauenkirche.
"My father used to tell me about the horrors and the suffering of Dresden," Mr Smith said. "He did not want it to be forgotten. By working on the cross I've come closer to my father and it's my way of saying goodbye to him and fulfilling his wishes."
Old Dresdeners cheered as workers eased the crown and orb inch by inch on to the church's tower with a crane while bells pealed.

Before the rebuild

After the rebuild
My photo in 1989

Anothter view in 1989

Model of how the church fitted into the Baroque city

View of Baroque Dresden

Another old photo of the bombed city

Famous view of Baroque Dresden

 Homilius - Cantata 'Der Herr ist Gott, der uns erleuchtet' the kind of music performed soon after it was built

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Jesuit Church, Funchal, Madeira

Our first visit to the island of Madeira was Febraury 2017. Walking around in shirt sleeves on an island well out into the Atlantic parallel with north Africa in February was a strange experience. added to that promenading along the front in Funchal was like a U3A Flash Mob! Just so many Brits everywhere. Such a hilly place too, but what can you expect from an extinct volcano thrusting out of the sea?
The heritage is Portuguese and we were greeted by Baroque with azulejo tilework. Most memorable for me was the Igreja do Colegio in the centre of Funchal. This was built by the Jesuits, who owned vast estates and more or less ran the wine industry until their expulsion in 1760. The church was built 1624-1647 and has been fortunate to have large amouts of restoration accomplished. The attached Jesuit College is now part of the Catholic University. The nave is high and wide - typical of the Jesuits. It is flanked by lateral side chapels with an interconnecting passage in the side walls of the chapels. This was a style from 16th century Portugal and widely used by the Jesuits. The collection of golden carved altarpieces from the 1640s to 1660s is a highlight. The walls of the chapels are covered with tiles produced in Lisbon. High above the nave a trompe l'oeil ceiling   has figures gazing down from heaven. The high altar is a masterpiece of 17th century Madeiran woodcarving.It is a very rich Baroque interior - a big contrast to those recently seen in Baden Wuttemberg.
The sacristy is noted for its fine tiles and collection of Flemish painting. In our climb up to the roof we  saw a fascination exhibition about resoration work and were also able to peer down into the nave through a spy hole viewing that ceiling from a new angle. This building certainly has atmosphere.

                                                     Aerila view
                                          Example of restoration work.
                                              Nore restoration work
                                                      Example of the tile work
View of the sacristy

                                                   Example of   a side altar