An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile                                
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile

                                 
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          Austin Friars Dutch Church                                          
          W 1957                                    
         
The best 20th Century church in the City, and one of the best in the whole of London, but at what a price! For here was the priory church of the Austin Friars, rebuilt in spectacular Decorated style by the Augustinians in the 1350s, a mark of piety in that decade after the Black Death. At the Reformation it was all sold off or demolished apart from the vast nave, which was given as the Temple of Jesus to the Dutch Protestants by the crown to help them put down error among the Flemish community, which had developed a taste for anabaptism. The advisers to the young Edward VI were keen to encourage Bible-based teaching and a rejection of Popish practices like the consecration of Bishops and sacramental worship. Thanks to their uncompromising Reformation, the Dutch were felt to be the best defenders of the fundamental protestant faith, although in fact the church was used by protestant sects from a number of European countries, including Scandinavian ones - Wayland Young notes that the Swedish ambassador had his own pew beside that of the Dutch ambassador. In the 19th Century, one of the Dutch Reformed congregations here was of South African Boers.

Young goes on to describe the Temple of Jesus as throughout a place of the highest seriousness. The pulpit was attached to one of the nave piers and the pews were grouped around it, leaving the rest of the great nave bare. Offenders, however trivial, stood on a raised place while their offences and their penance were read out from the pulpit. The congregation debated moral questions such as might a Christian attend a Catholic marriage service? The church was gutted by fire in 1870 and stood roofless for a few years before being repaired, but the interior 16th Century furnishings were all lost of course. Eventually restored, it remained one of the most stunning 14th Century buildings in the whole of London.

On the night of 15th October 1940, in an early raid on the City, the church received a direct hit from a half-ton high explosive bomb, and was vaporised. The Dutch, being a practical people, built a completely new church in its place. The architect was Arthur Bailey. He was clever enough to maximise the use of space on the site by raising the floor of the new church and building offices and meeting rooms beneath. This split level interior is complemented by other offices to the west of the church. The whole thing was complete by 1957.

No City church is so full of light as this one - it is breathtaking. The simplicity of Dutch Reformed worship coupled with an opulent scheme of 1950s stained glass by the likes of Max Nauta, Hugh Easton and William Wilson creates a sense of being inside a hollow jewel. Floors, furnishings, glass - everything is of the highest quality. The acoustic is designed for robust scriptural worship, which is the kind of thing the Reformed Dutch like best. This acoustic creates a sense of gravitas - not seriousness exactly, more a feeling of the importance of this place. All in all, a stunning achievement despite the loss.

Simon Knott, December 2015


location: Austin Friars EC2N 2HA - 3/066
status: working Dutch Reformed church
access: Tuesday to Friday 11am - 3pm (other times ring on bell, you may be lucky)
website

lost church: Dutch Church Austin Friars Austin Friars Austin Friars Austin Friars Austin Friars west window west window H Lieekes Wilhelmina 1880-1962 Baptism of Christ Queen Wilhelmina St Willebrod St Boniface Supper at Emmaus Edward VI Irene van Oranje firmanda quibus per... Nederlandica cum conjuncta est donavit ad vincula... ecclesiarum reformatarum Austin Friars Austin Friars Baptism of Christ Supper at Emmaus

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          home   index   map   latest   e-mail   about this site   resources   small print   simonknott.co.uk   norfolkchurches.co.uk   suffolkchurches.co.uk
     
An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile
                               
        An occasional saunter through the churches of the Square Mile