Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A tale of two chapels

In this age of mass inequality of wealth, property developers demolishing history to make way for soulless luxury flats and big business ruling our lives, it seems that profit comes before everything else. So it warms the cockles of my heart that two small, beautiful London hospital chapels have been saved from demolition and restored.

The most recent is the Fitzrovia Chapel, now part of the £700m Fitzroy development. When the Middlesex hospital was closed in 2005, then demolished in 2008, the grade II* listed hospital chapel was the only part of the hospital to survive. Aerial photos of the lone chapel surrounded by wasteland for years made for a sad and poignant image:

The Fitzroy development – the usual bland assortment of offices, restaurants and shops – was finally completed last year, and the first opportunity to see the completed and restored chapel was for Open House last September. And what a delight it is, its sumptuous interior adorned with gold mosaics and marble on the walls and ceiling.

Designed by the Gothic Revivalist architect John Loughborough Pearson, who also created the Truro cathedral in Cornwall, the chapel was completed by his son, Frank, and opened in 1929. Frank added many of the flourishes for which it is famous today, including lavish marble and mosaic, in the style of Italian Gothic and Romanesque.

Ceiling of Fitzrovia chapel
St Christopher's Chapel in Great Ormond Street Hospital is another unexpected delight – and so described by Oscar Wilde as "the most delightful private chapel in London". In the 1980s, the old hospital was demolished and the entire chapel had to be physically moved by placing a concrete rafter underneath it and sliding it to a new location. It was officially re-opened by Princess Diana on Valentine's Day, 1994.

As befits a chapel built for the young (it's devoted to the patron saint of children), imagery of children, flowers, owls, squirrels and mythical beasts adorn the interior, with stained glass windows, paintings and murals depicting child-related scenes from the Bible (and quite probably Alice in Wonderland). Most charmingly (and heartbreakingly), though, are all the soft toys on the window sills and behind the alter (referred to as the teddy bear choir).

St Christopher's chapel
The small size of the chapel, built in the Byzantine style in 1875, creates an intimate and jewel-like atmosphere, making it feel a very special place for worship and contemplation. It was designed by Edward Middleton Barry whose father designed the Houses of Parliament.

Large churches can often be overwhelming and intimating (that's partly the point of them – to be awe inspiring) but I far prefer a small chapel – they feel more intimate, personal and, perhaps, closer to God.


Caspar said...

You might be interested in another recent story of a precious old building saved from 'redevelopment' here.

Barnaby said...

Oh yes thanks Caspar, I read about that the other day. Power to the people! Or, er, rather, power to rich, famous film directors!