Just around the corner from Covent Garden is a Victorian brick building that conceals a wondrous Catholic Church interior.
The church of Corpus Christi was built to serve the growing Catholic population in the area, fueled by the Irish immigrants and the local market labour force. It owes its location to an agreement in 1873, when the Duke of Bedford was widening Maiden Lane, and agreed to lease a site to the parish, on the condition that the church built cost no less than £6,000 to ensure its architectural quality.
It’s a difficult site to work on, so the church presents a long stone facade to the street which makes it surprisingly easy to overlook.
Inside the church is sunk down to below street level following complaints that the planned height was to high, so they suck it down in the ground.
The £8,000 cost of the building was promoted to the Catholic parishioners as an act of reparation ‘for the sacrileges committed at that sad time against the Divine Sacrament’.
It didn’t take long to build, with the church opening in October 1874. However, because Churches can’t be consecrated if they are in debt, it took 82 years to pay off the debt and for the formal consecration to take place in 1956.
The long delay being to the change in the local businesses, with rich patrons moving away and the market closing as a food market which saw the local parish lose a lot of its congregation. Today it serves a more varied audience of tourists and is known as the actors church for the local theatres.
It’s recently been refurbished, removing the 1970s paint that obscured the wonderful brickwork. It almost looked puritan, which is far from how Catholic churches should look.
The altar which was plain white has had a wonderful blue background with gold stars applied and with new lighting and reguilding, looks utterly stunning, and now, very Catholic in taste.
The lanterns are held up by wire angels, and the use of soft lighting gives the whole church a very dark but warm feeling to it.
As befits a church of this nature, lots of saints are dotted around, for devotions, but also adding rich splashes of colour to the reddish brickwork. The stations of the cross also living up the flat walls.
The church is open every day now that the restoration is over, and is a pleasant spot to rest from the hustle of nearby Covent Garden.