Nestled in amongst the back streets of posh Mayfair you can find one of London’s greatest examples of the Gothic Revival in church form.
Occupying what was once a road between houses, the church squeezes into a narrow space that constrained its earlier expansive plans, but the restrictions held back the potential excesses and they have a church that is delight airy, but not overwhelmingly large. The right balance between impressive space and community comfort.
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The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street was commissioned in the 1840s when the Jesuits, recently emancipated by Parliament were looking for a new place of worship.
In 1844, the first stone was laid, and the church was officially opened in 1849. Although the main entrance is on Farm Street, in fact it seems that most people use the side door at the other end. Certainly I do, as it more convenient for the local garden, and the route down from Oxford Street.
Red leather clad doors hint at wealth within, and while the church is well looked after as you might expect for the area, the fabrics are not ostentatious. Cheapish carpets cover the floor to muffle loud shoes clattering over the simple wooden floor.
However, it is the building that stands out, and the decoration.
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Oh, the decoration! What a wondrously detailed masterpiece of stone and ornament it is. Anyone visiting the church wont be surprised to learn that the actual Augustus Pugin himself designed the high altar, although it was fellow Goth, Joseph Scoles (who died 150 years ago next month) who designed the religious superstructure that surrounds the altar.
Along the main nave, as in so many Catholic churches are side altars for individual devotions. Rather cleverly, along one side of the church the walls between the altars are double thick, and within that gap sits the confession box, and a wonderfully ornate, almost Arab style row of arches add further privacy for the penitent seeking forgiveness.
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Some of those altars would make for full ornament in any smaller church, but here are but a mere sideshow to the main Pugin masterpiece at the north end of the aisle. Do also observe the stations of the cross, rendered in soft brown stone and artfully down-lit to accentuate the shadows.
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And yes, this is a church aligned north-south rather than the preferred east-west, simply as that is the direction of the road that it occupied. Sometimes, needs must.
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Standing at the rear of the church, the dim lighting adding and hint of incense from a recent service add to the effect of light below and darkness above that helps to humanise the lofty space within.
But let there be light!
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As with most Catholic churches, the building is open most of the day every day, as the parishioners come in to use it for its formal purpose, and allowing inquisitive an blogger to make repeated visits and keep walking into a full religious service. Finally, he turned up when it was quiet and took some photos. Map Link
Some more photos: