Sunday, 12 February 2017

London II: The Russian Orthodox Cathedral

We walked through Hyde Park, and then plunged into the maze of residential streets north east of the V&A our goal goal being the Russian orthodox Church in Ennismore Gardens.  A building that has been recently been restored, and I was eager to see what had been done and experience its Orthodoxy.  It however started out as an Anglican parish church, designed in the 1830s by Lewis Vulliamy (although work didn't commence for another decade).  In the 1850s Robert Louis Roumieu designed a sky-rocket of a campanille, which thankfully wasn't built. The present bell tower dates from the 1870s.  The interior, like many post-reformation Anglican churches of the eighteenth century onwards, based on the early christian basilican form - nave, aisles and apse.  We've met the form before on this blog.  The interior is very vertical in feeling.  The great columns are made of cast iron.  In 1892 Owen Jones's decoration was replaced by Arts and Crafts architect Charles Harrison Townsend and the artist Heywood Sumner, who decorated the nave walls with sgrafitto and the triumphal arch over the apse with mosaic.  The apse decoration, by Derwent Wood, dates from 1911. The work is excellent, and it was really pleasing to see that the recent restoration has respected the history of the church.
Researching for this post I was faced with the same issue that afflicted my research on Houghton Hall last year; none of the secondary source materials seem to quite agree with each other.  It could be that the west front is original, and merely modified by Harrison Townsend i.e. the porch, which has very Byzantine detailing.  However the deign, which is based on San Zeno, Verona, is nothing like that in 1850s perspective drawing illustrated in 'Victorian Churches', Country Life Books, 1968.  I suspect that the whole facade is by Townsend in collaboration with Sumner who made the sgraffito decoration in the porch. Either way it's a vast improvement on that illustrated.  When a student in west London a friend and I attended the Divine Liturgy one Sunday when the very holy Anthony Bloom was archbishop, and the place as far as I can remember was a little shabby.  There wasn't much money available the, I suppose.  Money, judging by what has recently been achieved, is now plentiful.  And rather splendid, and light filled, is the result. Not, thankfully, as lavish as I feared.

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