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.
|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|
|Mausoleum and monument to the Duke|
|Mausoeum and monument|
|Another view of pews and trompe l'oeil|