Places of Worship

01 February 2012

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Winchester Cathedral. Photography by Steve Cadman.Winchester Cathedral. Photography by Steve Cadman.

This month our theme is Places of Worship, one of the richest and most varied parts of our built environment.  A place of worship can be tremendously grand, such as our great gothic Cathedrals in places like York, Durham, Winchester and Canterbury, or much more modest in scale, like the rural village churches of Lincolnshire and East Anglia and the many tiny chapels in Wales.  The UK’s wonderful cultural diversity means that our city centres include mosques, temples and synagogues, some built very recently, others, like the extraordinary Bevis Marks synagogue in the city of London, dating back hundreds of years.

Bevis Marks Synagogue, London. Photography by Emmanuel Dyan.

Places of Worship make up the largest single group of listed buildings in the UK, showing their huge historic and architectural significance, but also presenting a challenge to those organisations charged with maintaining and supporting them.  As well as being Chairman of the Heritage Alliance, I am also proud to chair the Churches Conservation Trust, which looks after more than 300 of the most important churches in England which are no longer in use for regular worship, and some of which are being found interesting new uses, such as St Paul’s in Bristol, now home to the Circomedia circus skills training school.  The Churches Conservation Trust will be blogging for us later this month so look out for their contribution to the debate.

St Paul's, Bristol. Photography by Robert Cutts.

Shah Jahan Mosque, Woking, Surrey. Photography by Roger W Haworth.

We want to hear from you as well, about your favourite Places of Worship and what they mean to you, and especially lesser known ones, which you would like to introduce to a wider audience.  And as the days gradually lengthen, why not visit your local church, chapel, mosque, temple or synagogue? Many conduct regular tours or have open days, and welcome visitors of all faiths or none.  Let us know too about buildings which once had a religious use but are now something completely different – there are churches with climbing walls, turned into apartments, or as offices, shops and concert halls.  Among my favourites is St John’s, Smith Square, in the heart of Westminster.  Known as ‘Queen Anne’s Footstool’ after the probably apocryphal story of the Queen, when asked by architect Thomas Archer how she wanted the new church to look, kicking her footstool upside down and saying ‘Build it like that’, this masterpiece of the English Baroque is now a fine concert venue, giving a new lease of life to the church following bomb damage in the second world war and subsequent redundancy.

St John's, Smith Square, London. Photography by James Stringer.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, Neasden. Photography by Phil Gyford.

Finally, have a look at the Walk the World website for walks taking you past some fine Places of Worship in various parts of the country, and maybe suggest your own walks for the site.


Post by Loyd Grossman, Chairman of The Heritage Alliance.

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