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The Cathedral + Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury Kent

All That is Good

The Reverend Andy Rider is Stepney Dean of Mission and Area Dean of Tower Hamlets. He is also Chaplain at Langley House Trust, a charity that helps ex offenders. Previously, Andy was Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields for 17 years. It is one of East London’s most prominent places of worship. During his time at Christ Church, in between priestly duties, he oversaw the revivification of the historic ecclesiastical property portfolio of the parish. In particular, the Grade I listed crypt was given a new lease of life as a café, community and church space. For the first time in its history, every cubic metre of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural masterpiece was put to active use. Not to mention airspace: the church band has been known to play on the roof of the nave. Reverend Rider is also a published writer of books on Christian living. So who better to talk to about Canterbury?

“What makes Canterbury special to the Anglican Church? Well, it has been the home of the Archbishop for years,” he confirms. “His leadership of not just the Church of England but also the Anglican Communion ensures that Canterbury is in the heart and prayers of pretty much every Anglican believer. Although we are seeing a rise in pilgrimage, Canterbury is probably for most a virtual pilgrimage from time to time. It was key to the spread of the Gospel north through Great Britain, meeting the Celtic Christians who were bringing the Gospel south from such places as Iona and Lindisfarne.”

The earliest remnants in Canterbury of this ancient advancement of Christianity are found at St Augustine’s Abbey, just beyond the city walls. “Augustine… built a monastery not far from the city to the eastward, in which, by his advice, Ethelbert erected from the foundation the church of the blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul, and enriched it with divers [sic] gifts; wherein the bodies of the same Augustine, and of all of the Bishops of Canterbury, and of the Kings of Kent, might be buried.” So records The Venerable Bede circa 730.

Augustine was a Benedictine monk who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. His mission to convert the Kentish King Ethelbert to Christianity was immediately successful (the Frankish Queen Bertha was already a Christian). The royal couple provided land for the abbey which would become a centre of spiritual and cultural activity for almost a millennium. That is, until the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. St Augustine’s was dissolved in 1538 and transformed into a palace. Anne of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, stayed one night on her way from Deal to London. In a gorgeous story arc, the site would later become a missionary college for 99 years, opening in 1848. Acclaimed Gothic Revival architect William Butterworth built the split flint faced and red roofed St Augustine’s College amidst the ruins. A freestone library was erected over the abbot’s hall foundations. The King’s School now occupies the intact buildings.

If Kent is the Garden of England, Canterbury is the Temple. The walled city and its environs really don’t disappoint. Charles Dickens was a fan. The former Old King’s School Shop, dated 1647, a teetering tiered tower of architectural Jenga jettying over Palace Street commemorates the writer with an 1849 quote across its façade, “… a very old house bulging out over the road… leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below…” The Chaucer Bookshop on Beer Cart Lane is called after the most famous Canterbury literary connection. Street names – The Dane John Mound, Orange Street, Lady Wootton’s Green – suggest intriguing times of old.

The tight urban fabric of the city knits so tightly round the cathedral that it can only be entered through the Precincts which in turn can only be entered via four gates: Christ Church, Mint Yard, Postern and Quenin. Stretching the material metaphor, the cathedral itself is a multilayered multicoloured multitextured fabric of utter fabulousness. Benedictine cloisters; Romanesque crypts; Perpendicular nave; Gothic quire; Middle Age pulpitum crossing; Arts and Crafts stained glass; even a 12th century martyrdom: Canterbury Cathedral has it all. Statues of The Queen and Prince Philip are incorporated into the west front. But the best statue award must go to the tomb of Edward Plantagenet the Black Prince who died in 1376. The Prince’s canine companion is immortalised in marble, resting at his master’s feet.

The grandest house in the Cathedral Precincts is, predictably, the Archbishop’s Palace. Archbishop Lanfranc built a large palace to the northwest of the cathedral in circa 1086 which was remodelled throughout medieval times. Archbishops of Canterbury ignored this residence until Archbishop Frederick Temple’s succession in 1896. He sold the Archbishop’s Palace in Addington, Surrey, and ordered the rebuilding of a palace on the historic Canterbury site. William Douglas Caröe, a prolific designer of churches, was commissioned. The architect’s T shaped knapped flint and random stone dressed with Bath stone building is summed up in John Newman’s Pevsner Guide to Northeast and East Kent, 2013, “scrupulously retained medieval features woven into a rambling, fancifully detailed Free Tudor mansion completed in 1901.”

And so to the Mother Church of the Worldwide Anglican Communion and Seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury on the 15th Sunday after Trinity. The organ thunders with visceral fervour while five clergy take their seats around the Anglican Communion table. The Dean, The Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis, welcomes the congregation to the service which is The Oratory Mass set by Matthew Martin. The north side of the girls’ choir sings The Motet, a 14th century Eucharistic hymn set to music by Edward Elgar. Their angelic voices reverberate across the nave and down the centuries. Prayers are offered up for the Apostolic Church of South Sudan, Archbishop Justin, Bishop Tim of Lambeth and Bishop Rose of Dover.

It’s the last warm day of summer and soft sun streams across the hard stone floor. Pure fragrant blended incense fills the atmosphere. Vice Dean, The Reverend Andrew Dodd, preaches on the parable of the vineyard labourers’ wages and Jonah’s grumbling at God changing His mind. Unfairness is the theme. He reflects on the American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who recently died. “She was an unlikely hero. ‘RBG’ as she was known as confronted discrimination and injustice in an extremely sensitive climate.” The Vice Dean concludes, “In God’s economy everyone is of immeasurable divine value.” The service ends with the Dismissal and the congregation pour out into a blaze of sunshine.

Andy’s spiritual journey began a long way from Canterbury or even East London. “I was sent to church as a child by non church going parents. The local church had a serious Sunday school, which I left at about age 12 when I fell out with the leader. Seven years later and having had a few scrapes with the law, gaining a criminal record, I met a couple of Christians who spoke to me about forgiveness and God’s will for our lives. This, along with my work with mentally disabled folks got me asking all sorts of questions about life and humanity. Then, playing music in a band with a Christian I began to see who God might be and who He might want me to be. So one night on an overnight bus to Blackpool on the way to some massage training – I wanted to be an osteopath – I gave my life to Jesus in Digbeth Bus Station.”

“I was ordained in 1990,” Andy relates. His first Curacy brought him south to Chatham in Kent. “I next led the All Souls Clubhouse church and community centre in London’s West End for a decade. The Bishop of London then asked me to consider the Spitalfields post. He said it needed a ‘big man’ to do the job… I sensed God’s call in his invitation and without seeing inside the church building or rectory, I accepted the post in 2003.” Under Andy’s leadership, the congregation greatly grew exponentially in numbers and strength. Ministry in the community is especially important at Christ Church: looking upwards and looking outwards.

“My new role,” Andy explains, “as Dean of Mission is principally helping churches to explore and step further into church health, growth and mission. Working with the Bishop of Stepney across three London Boroughs and some 60 churches, we need to halt the decline in Church of England attendance and – to quote a song lyric – ‘Turn this ship around’! This needs strategy, structural changes, leadership development and a new hunger across the church.” The Reverend Rider gives personal advice in his 2018 book Life is For Giving: “Your current reality will shape you for whatever is next – because God meets us where we are and wastes nothing. Your task is to read and explore your present reality, and so to see it as God sees it.”

Turn of last century author Frank William Boreham wrote over 40 books on Christianity with charming titles such as A Bunch of Everlastings, A Handful of Stars, Mountains in the Mist, Shadows on the Wall, Wisps of Wildfire. In 1948 he published My Pilgrimage An Autobiography. The author includes his testimony: “Only once in the history of this little world did a man, crucified at 33, find that He had brought His tremendous life work to absolute perfection. ‘It is finished!’ He cried. No broken column marks His sepulchre. And yet even He spoke frequently of the sublime tasks that awaited Him in the world to which He journeyed. Other people may do as they will; but, for myself, I am going to rest all my insufficiency and inefficiency on His finished and perfect Saviourhood leaving Him to complete my incompleteness in the world in which He reigns supreme.”

In his autobiography he recalls his mother telling him about her first visit as a teenager to Canterbury Cathedral. Frank’s mother arranged to go with her cousin but she didn’t turn up. An elderly gentleman approached her: “Excuse me but whilst I was chatting with the friend who has just left me, I could not help noticing that you were eagerly watching for somebody who, evidently, has not arrived. Were you thinking of inspecting the Cathedral? I wonder if you would very kindly allow me to show you round. I am deeply attached to the place and happen to know something of its story.”

Frank’s mother acquiesced and was soon taken by the stranger’s silver tongued eloquence. The teenager was treated to an exhaustive tour of the cathedral and its history, travelling back in time from Huguenot refugees to Geoffrey Chaucer to St Thomas Becket and ending with St Augustine. Or should that be beginning? As the tour drew to a close, the stranger said, “It would be very interesting to me if we might exchange cards.” Frank’s mother didn’t have one but she accepted the stranger’s card without a second glance or first for that matter. Only on the train home to Tunbridge Wells did she look at it. The card read “Charles Dickens”.

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Architecture Luxury

Avignon + Lavender’s Blue

Finding You in the Mystery

Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s known as the Golden Triangle of Roman Cities: Avignon, Arles and Nîmes. Lavender’s Blue are in Avignon, favoured of late by the Obama family, less late by the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and rather less late again, by Charles Dickens. The author wrote in Pictures from Italy, “There lay before us, that same afternoon, the broken bridge of Avignon, and all the city baking in the sun; yet with an under-done-pie-crust, battlemented wall, that never will be brown, though it bake for centuries.”

Musee Calvet Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Town Centre Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Steeple Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Tower Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Papal Palace Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Rosette Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Door Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

City Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Wall Ruins Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Battlements Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Ramparts Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Historic Walls Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Crucifix Papal Palace Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Crucifix Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Cross Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Church Dome Avignon © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Reverend Andy Rider + Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt London

Cool Lud | Kingdom Come

Christ Church Spitalfields Spire © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“And your Church in the Spittle-Fields, is it near complete?” Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. “Carl Lentz of Hillsong in New York City, Phil Williams of East London’s Christ Church Spitalfields, Reverend Sally Hitchiner, Senior Chaplain at Brunel University… a raft of hip young Christians is credited with breathing new life into the church,” read Vogue as edited by Kate Moss. The model had been to Christ Church Spitalfields – not for a service but for an Alexander McQueen fashion event (the church building must earn its earthly keep to serve its heavenly purpose).

Christ Church Spitalfields Serlian Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Turns out Kate was particularly interested in the historical plaques of this 18th century marvel. Church really shouldn’t be about people watching but at candlelit Christmas Eve Midnight Mass there’s a good chance you may be singing carols next to Vivienne Westwood or Bianca Jagger. Or one or two of the newsworthy neighbours on Fournier Street be it Tracey Emin, Jeanette Winterston or Gilbert + George. An Evening Standard spread of Phil Williams and his fellow Anglican Pastor Darren Wolf as bearded and tattooed Christian poster boys of our time has only widened Christ Church’s appeal.

Christ Church Spitalfields Finial © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s hard to believe that not much more than a decade ago Christ Church lay derelict, the congregation meeting round the corner in Hanbury Hall (where Charles Dickens once performed readings). The timely arrival of Reverend Andy Rider in autumn 2003 more or less coincided with the restoration of the church. At least from ground upwards. Christ Church the building was reborn. Then came the congregations. Plural. Now there’s an 8.30am Book of Common Prayer service for early risers (everyone heads to Spitalfields Market for breakfast afterwards), two hours later a family service, a Bengali service at 4pm and The Five for late risers. “It’s used a bit like a cathedral,” Andy observes.

Rector of Christ Church Spitalfields Reverend Andy Rider © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The services become livelier, younger and better attended as Sunday progresses, culminating in a congregation of several hundred mainly 20 to 30 somethings by the evening. A lunchtime service for city workers is held every Tuesday. Diverse in worship and worshippers yes, but there’s a common thread: theologically sound, intelligent, life changing sermons. One service it might be Andy on “A Joyride through Philippians”. The next, Darren on “The Holy Spirit of Promise” (Ephesians) or Antje a German born lay preacher on “Sent to Make the Deaf Here” (Mark) or Pieter-bas a Dutch born lay preacher on “Sent to Change Hearts” (more Mark). In between Sunday afternoon services, the nave is open to the public. Described in the Evening Standard as “the best building in London”; breathlessly praised by historian Harry Goodhart-Rendel “it remains doubtful whether of its date and kind there is any finer church in Europe”; and haled by all as Hawksmoor’s masterpiece, it’s unsurprising this horizon piercing Grade I landmark is an international visitor attraction.

Architects Alun Jones + Biba Dow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church has only taken three centuries to complete (usual build period of a contemporary London development rarely tops 24 months). Wren’s student Hawksmoor laid the cornerstone in 1714 but the builders focused on completing the above ground work. Below, throughout the passage of time the crypt remained a sculpted unfinished shell, a ribbed skeleton in need of fleshing out and dressing up. The guardianship of Reverend Rider and his accompanying holystic vision changed all that. Meanwhile, above the crypt, Europe’s finest baroque organ (once played by Handel) recently thundered one fine Sunday morning, notes marching ‘cross the aisle, filling the nave, floating up through the clerestory, ending four decades of silence after a multimillion pound restoration by the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Plaques © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The biggest challenge of the crypt project was having no obvious financial provision during the first seven years of my ministry here,” says Andy. Over £3 million was needed. “We still appointed architects and moved the concept towards design. It was when the finance became available through the generosity of The Monument Trust that our biggest challenge was overcome.” Nothing is incidental or accidental; minutiae were agonised over by Andy and the property team. Midnight oil burned in the Fournier Street Rectory while taps were chosen, lights selected and rugs argued over. “Above all,” he states, “I am proud of the church family members who gave themselves to the property team who I believe God deliberately brought to Christ Church for this chapter of its history.”

Christ Church Spitalfields Vault © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Chapel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Bar © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dow Jones Architects were tasked with lending the labyrinth meaning, cracking the carapace, unleashing the dust of myriad wooden voices, listening to Andy and the property team. Wearing her erudition ever lightly, Biba Dow expounds on the challenge: “We began by stripping out all the partitions so that we were left with just Hawksmoor’s structure. We revealed the stone piers and beams. The brickwork vaults were limewashed to dematerialise the existing structure into light while retaining the form and texture of the material. Then we inserted a series of oak rooms into Hawksmoor’s space. We wanted to maintain a sense of the scale of the crypt. This is apparent when you walk down the ramp into the crypt and see along its length and then arrive in the café and see its width. We also wanted the windows to light the public spaces and connect them to the city outside. The oak rooms have an outer set of glazed doors and an inner side of oak doors. This allows them to be used in different ways… The oak walls to the main spaces have staggered boards – a contemporary version of plank and muntin panelling. The back of house spaces have narrower tongue and grooved oak walls.”

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Materials © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Another paragraph worthy quote from Biba, “Our concept came from the position of Spitalfields within the mythos of London. It’s a transitional zone, culturally and physically, beyond the city walls. Hawksmoor stacked two triumphal arches on top of each other to form the church’s west front. The city gate is an architectural type that reconciles the centre with the edge. Hawksmoor’s façade explicitly expresses this marginal condition. It’s a juxtaposition which has brought and continues to bring an extraordinary cultural dynamic to the neighbourhood. We wanted the crypt to be part of Spitalfields. The wide ramp entrance brings the York stone pavement down into the space to make a public place. Our idea for the oak panelling was to make something which defines the place in between the edge and centre. The oak sits within the structure of the church building, making a place of habitation. We wanted the new fabric to be clearly contemporary and reversible so that you understand the primacy of Hawksmoor’s space.” Metalwork is bronze. Fabric is from Bute.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Ramp © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Criss crossed cryptic Christian chrysalis. A northern light, a southern kirk, an eastern revivification, a western Gesamtkunstwerk. Take the chapel door. Leading glass artist Nikki Cass was commissioned to create an artwork of fired coloured collaged glass to be inserted into the door of this thin place. “Your grace abounds in deepest waters,” goes the Hillsong hit Oceans. Biblical verses delivered divine inspiration as blues and greens and reds and yellows flowed. “The river of the water of life as crystal flowing from the throne of God” (Revelations). “Whosoever believes in the stream of living water will flow from within him” (John). “No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit” (John again). Nikki’s artwork has even spawned an accompanying book. Then there’s the kitchen – a stainless steel work of art worthy of a double Michelin starred restaurant (Comme Chez Soi, anyone?).

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Window © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Rest unassured, life as an urban Anglican rector isn’t quite all afternoon tea in the garden (although Christ Church Rectory does boast a walled oasis of tranquillity the envy of the neighbourhood). Count preacher, teacher, theologian, author, property developer, landlord, host and agony uncle among Andy’s demanding roles. He’s also Area Dean of Tower Hamlets and Honorary Chaplain to Langley House Trust. No room for boredom then which is as well as the Anglican retirement age is pushing three score and 10. As guardian of a portfolio of properties, mostly listed, inevitably Andy has faced both triumphs and travails. A long drawn out and unnecessary legal action by misguided individuals against the new school and community building adjoining the church garden was definitely one of his less rosy moments. Right now, he’s on a hallelujah high with the rebirth of the crypt.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Landing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“We cannot leave Christ Church without mentioning the curious detail of the windows (which is echoed in the street-facing wall of Truman’s Brewery, Brick Lane) – the pull that is set up by the sequence of small circular portholes above tall narrow lower windows. This is the symbol at the heart of Munch’s iconography – and relates to a whole chain of meanings and resonances – the grail-cup above the lance – the cauldron and the sword – female and male – the setting sun and the molten light over the waters – the pill about to be dropped into the test-tube – stylisation of the phallus and generative spurt – volatile/active – demanding the leap of energies – repeated symbols of the unconsummated – invitation.” Lud Heat by Iain Sinclair.

Christ Church Spitalfields Crypt Nikki Cass Art © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley