Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Christchurch Spitalfields, London

It is a great joy to see this wonderful Church restored to something like it its former glory in the heart of what is now a lively part of our great capital. Dating from 1714-1729 and designed by one of our greatest Baroque architects Nicholas Hawksmoor, it was one of the 50 new churches decreed by Act of Parliament in 1711 for the new settlements in London. This was an area full of Huguenot immigrants escaping from Louis XIV's France.

The architectural composition of Christ Church demonstrates Hawksmoor's usual abruptness: the very plain rectangular box of thenave is surmounted at its west end by a broad tower of three stages topped by a steeple more Gothic than classical. The magnificent porch with its semi circular pediment and Tuscan columns is attached bluntly to the west end: it may indeed be a late addition to the design intended to add further support to the tower. Like those of Hawksmoor’s other London churches and many of Wren’s, the central space is of the nave is organised around two axes, the shorter originally emphasised by two entrances of which only that to the south remains. It has a richly decorated flat ceiling and is lit by a clerestory. The aisles are roofed with elliptical barrel-vaults carried on a raised Composite order (cf. Wren's St James's, Piccadilly), and the same order is used for the screens across the east and west ends. The Venetian window at the east may show the growing influence of the revival of Palladian Architecture, or it may be a rhyme with the arched pediment of the entrance portico, repeated in the wide main stage of the tower. The east window is a double window, one inside, one outside, the effect now obscured by the Victorian stained glass window between the two.
By 1960 the church was practically derelict with the roof classed as unsafe.Indeed it was almost demolished. Can you imagine? Fotunately the church had friends and it was saved : particularly by the formation of the Friends of Christchurch Spitalfields in 1976. who have spearheaded fundraising and restoration project management. Church services resumed in 1987 and restoration fully completed in 2004. I can remember attending a performance of Handel's Saul in the 1980s and the church was still in a parlous state and there were no galleries that I can recall. Subsequent restoration has removed  Victorian alterations reinstating the aisle windows and galleries. The result is a stunning Baroque masterpiece : bright, airy and uplifting.However it is still very English, and  Protestant and un-Popish!

Then there is the magnificent 1735 Richard Bridge organ. This had  become defunct  and had not been heard in public after 1960.When built it was the largest organ in England. The Friends have organised a painstaking restoration completed in 2015. I am proud to have to have made a small contribution toward this! The inaugural concert by John Scott was a great event. It is a conoisseur's organ and I remember that music by Handel sounded so perfectly in tune with the acoustic and surroundings. Later in the summer I spent many happy hours stewarding the St Albans International Organ Festival competition stages held there. Couperin sounded great too!

Ettal, Germany

This Benedictine foundation near Oberammergau dates from 1330. It was badly damaged during the Reformation, and survived the Thirty Years War.Then in 1744 the abbey and church were largely destroyed by a major fire. This led to a rebuild by Enrico Zuccalli, the Swiss Italian architect in Munich, who had studied with Bernini. Decorations were by Josef Schmutzer of the Wessobrunn School and altars and chancel by Johann Baptist Straub. The abbey was dissolved in 1803 and then the Benedictines returned in the early 20th century.
I first visited, hopping off a bus, in 1989, and returned in 1994.
The situation near the Bavarian Alps is stunning. There is an excellent bookshop, from which my Bavarian cookbook came! The monks also produce an enticing liqueur.

                                          This is great for getting the atmosphere

Excerpt from evening Vespers
                                                This 360 panorama makes me feel cold!