Tuesday, 10 January 2017


I cannot over recommend this church! St Lawrence, Little Stanmore, (or Whitchurch as it was formerly known), is a famous small church in north London. It was an 18th century  rebuild of a late medieval church to accompany the huge nearby country house called Canons, the residence of  James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos. (1674-1744). He was Paymaster General to John Churchill Duke of Marlborough on his campaigns. He must have had his hand in the till because he came out of it with a large fortune. Also he married Mary Lake of Canons and on his retirement bought their family home, pulled it down and rebuilt the huge Baroque palace for which he became famous.The cost of upkeep proved all too much and the second Duke demolished it and sold off the contents in 1747-53. Only the church remained.

It is unique among parish churches in England in retaining nearly all the original woodwork and paintings restored 1973-1984. The woodwork  includes Corinthian columns by Grinling Gibbons no less - restored to their original golden oak colour in the 1970s.The result is an interior very much like it was in the early 18th contury. But this is not the English baroque of Christopher Wren but the continental baroque which I love so much! The only similar chapels that I can call to mind are Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.

The church was designed by John James. He left only the 14th century tower to create a new vessel which has been filled by remarkable trompe l'oeil effect by the Frenchman Louis Laguerre. (1663-1721).Laguerre was a pupil of Charles le Brun and came in England in 1683 and worked as an assistant to Antonio Verrio (the creator of the remarkable wall paintings at Burghley House in Stamford). Exactly how much Laguerre contributed is unclear and who undertook other works will never be verified through lack of documentation.The decoration around the walls and  roof contain no biblical references, but concentrate on producing the effects of columns, urns, niches, putti and a dome. In the church the visitor is met with paintings over the altar of the adoration of Jehovah (anon.); to the right of the altar by the Holy Family (Antonio Bellucci); to the left  of the altar by the descent from the Cross (Bellucci); various miracles on the ceiling (Laguerre)and on the walls of the nave are Evangelists and Virtues.(Francesco Sleter). Finally on the half dome abobe the west gallery or Chandos pew is  a view of the Transfiguration. (Bellucci) With the imitation sky in the retrochoir lit by a concealed window and trompe l'oeil statues in dramatic poses and the painted scenes on walls and ceiling it is a trully remarkable interior for England!

The organ is believed to have been played by George Frideric Handel who worked at Canons 1717-1718 and wrote the eleven Chandos anthems, a Te Deum, Acis and Galatea and Haman and Mordecai (later morphed into Esther) while there. The anthems must have been performed in the church because the chapel in the house was not finished then.We can easily  imagine the Duke sitting up in his central box at the back of the church with his bodyguard and servants in the other boxes!

The church is a regular concert venue and the acoustic is superb. I attended a 2016 Handel Festiival concert of music which would have been performed at Canons : tremendously atmospheric. Magic!

The adjacent mausoleum was added by the first Duke after the death of his second wife. Designed by James Gibbs and decorated with trompe l'oeil columns and figures by Gaetano Brunetti, it also featiures a large monument to the Duke designed by Grinling Gibbons. It is a remarkable space.

The photos date from a Sunday summer afternoon in 2017 when Paula and I last visited. The church is in regular use but visiting hours are limited so do check the web site. You will not be disappointed.

                                              Excerpt from Handel Acis and Galatea

Transfiguration scene by Bellucci

Pews and trompe l'oeil

Altar area with Handel organ and paintins by Bellucci

Duke of Chandos' box

View from the Chandos box
Trompe l'oeil 
External view

Mausoleum and monument to the Duke

Mausoeum and monument
Another view of pews and trompe l'oeil

Monday, 2 January 2017


Meinrad was educated at the abbey school on Reichenau Island, in Lake Constance, under his kinsmen, Abbots Hatto and Erlebald, where he became a monk and was ordained a priest. After some years at Reichenau, and at a dependent priory on Lake Zurich, he embraced an eremitical life and established his hermitage on the slopes of Etzel Mountain. He died on January 21, 861, at the hands of two robbers who thought that the hermit had some precious treasures, but during the next 80 years the place was never without one or more hermits emulating Meinrad's example. One of them, named Eberhard, previously Provost of Strassburg, erected in 934 a monastery and church there, of which he became first abbot.

The church was miraculously consecrated, so the legend runs, in 948, by Christ himself assisted by the Four Evangelists, St. Peter, and St. Gregory the Great. This event was investigated and confirmed by Pope Leo VIII and subsequently ratified by many of his successors, the last ratification being by Pope Pius VI in 1793, who confirmed the acts of all his predecessors.

In 965 Gregory, the third Abbot of Einsiedeln, was made a prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Otto I, and his successors continued to enjoy the same dignity up to the cessation of the empire in the beginning of the 19th century. In 1274 the abbey, with its dependencies, was created an independent principality by Rudolf I of Germany, over which the abbot exercised temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction. It continued independent until 1798, the year of the French invasion. The abbey is now what is termed an abbey nullius, the abbot having quasi-episcopal authority over the territory where the monastery is built.

For the learning and piety of its monks, Einsiedeln has been famous for a thousand years, and many saints and scholars have lived within its walls. The study of letters, printing, and music have greatly flourished there, and the abbey has contributed largely to the glory of the Benedictine Order. It is true that discipline declined somewhat in the fifteenth century and the rule became relaxed, but Ludovicus II, a monk of St. Gall who was Abbot of Einsiedeln 1526-44, succeeded in restoring the stricter observance.

In the 16th century the religious disturbances caused by the spread of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland were a source of trouble for some time. Zwingli himself was at Einsiedeln for a while, and used the opportunity for protesting against the famous pilgrimages, but the storm passed over and the abbey was left in peace. Abbot Augustine I (1600–29) was the leader of the movement which resulted in the erection of the Swiss Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict in 1602, and he also did much for the establishment of unrelaxed observance in the abbey and for the promotion of a high standard of scholarship and learning amongst his monks.

Nave of the abbey church

Details of the ceiling paintings

Details of the ceiling paintings

The pilgrimages, just mentioned, which have never ceased since the days of St Meinrad, have tended to make Einsiedeln the rival even of Rome, the Holy House of Loreto and Santiago de Compostela, serving as a major stopping point on the Way of St. James leading there. Pilgrimages constitute one of the features for which the abbey is chiefly celebrated. The pilgrims number around one million, from all parts of Catholic Europe or even further. The statue of Our Lady from the 15th century, enthroned in the little chapel erected by Eberhard, is the object of their devotion. This chapel stands within the great abbey church, in much the same way as the Holy House at Loreto, encased in marbles and elaborately decorated.

September 14 and October 13 are the chief pilgrimage days, the former being the anniversary of the miraculous consecration of Eberhard's basilica and the latter that of the translation of St Meinrad's relics from Reichenau Island to Einsiedeln in 1039. The millennium of St Meinrad was kept there with great splendour in 1861 as well as that of the Benedictine monastery in 1934. The great church has been many times rebuilt, the last time by Abbot Maurus between the years 1704 and 1719. The last big renovation ended after more than twenty years in 1997. The library contains nearly 250,000 volumes and many priceless manuscripts. The work of the monks is divided chiefly between prayer, work and study. At pilgrimage times the number of confessions heard is very large.

In 2013 the community numbered 60 monks. Attached to the abbey are a seminary and a college for about 360 pupils who are partially taught by the monks, who also provide spiritual direction for six convents of Religious Sisters.

I was fortunate to visit in 1974 when I was staying with a Swiss family near Zurich. An Anglican then I was puzzled by some of the Catholic practices like genuflecting before the altar but even more by the bareness of local Zwinglian chuirches like the Grossmunster in Zurich.

Choir organ