What I’ve realised is something about myself…
Firstly – what are my favourites among the cities we’ve been to?
Thinking about other cities (and not just those I’ve been discussing), I realise that Norwich, Bristol and Ipswich all have several special medieval churches – but like London’s classical ones, I can take them for granted.
St Mary Redcliffe Bristol – my favourite parish church in Britain
I like St Mary Redcliffe best – perhaps that’s why I’m so dissatisfied elsewhere as I’ve got such a high precedent. I would have work to do to any Norwich church to put it on this level. It’s also 60ft longer than Norwich’s largest parish church and its spire is only 23ft shorter than Norwich cathedral’s. It has modern glass, a neo medieval crypt for meetings, and it has interesting historical associations (that’s a whole other aspect I’ve not touched on).
What makes SMR stand out is its vault and a satisfying tower/spire, and no-one’s got such an unusual porch
From Norwich’s churches, I’d pick:
I would want to put tracery on the arches inside, and do something about that Victorian spirelet and parapet.
That’s not to say that none of the other churches have anything good.
My wish list from elsewhere
I’d like Cambridge’s round church
a classical church – St Stephen Walbrook I think being my favourite out of several
modern stained glass – Bristol would be best for that
an octagonal open tower from York – St Andrew’s Halls lost theirs
There really are some great churches in Suffolk and also in the East Midlands and Cotswolds area; Norwich/Norfolk as a city and county may have the most, but not necessarily the best. To make Norwich’s 31 churches superlative, I’d have to pinch heavily from the West Country and Lincs/E Yorks/Notts too.
By cutting out Catholics and nonconformists, I’ve undermined the full picture in many cases. I don’t like Victorian gothic, but two great Catholic churches of that era are to be found in Cambridge and Norwich. Nearly these towns have great Nonconformist chapels and that evens out the lack of classicism. In Norwich, there’s a 17th C red tower and a bank that resembles a Wren style church (and another huge former bank has Gibbs-like rhythms in its ceiling arches) so it sort of does have all the eras and styles, for the missing Early English is made up for in the Catholic cathedral. And the synagogue opposite has modern stained glass. Perhaps Pevsner was right when he said Norwich has everything. I was beginning to doubt him.
Perhaps Suffolk’s finest and the best parish churches of England are posts for another time…
What I realised about me:
I realised that what appeals to me in a church is about space and atmosphere; that my non conformist roots, for all my 20 years of Anglican church interests and wide faith journey, are still very strong. I often pick out the preaching box like churches. I don’t miss furnishings: I like the damaged churches who sweep out as much as they’re allowed and start with a fresh open space – not that I’m condoning bombings, arson etc – but their aftermath is actually an opportunity.
But I also asked myself why this church stuff mattered, for as much as this is focussed on buildings, human emotions creep in. What is my relationship to these cities and to these churches, whether as worshipper, employee, citizen, customer, passer by, or tourist? Many of these churches have strong emotive attachments for me. The stories about being near or in those churches…. that might be a creative writing idea….
Sense of place is hugely important to me and churches are a part of that, both as my environment and as a spiritual person looking for a community. Why is perfection important? Perhaps it is about feeling I have chosen as my home a city that I feel really proud of and one that meets my needs; whose boasts I can believe first hand rather than accept those of others, and sense of belonging and having the same perspective as other citizens. Perhaps this reflects my own disillusions and doubts about where I live now and should live, rather than on bricks and plasterwork…
Perhaps this comes down to issues nothing to do with actual churches and things too personal to reflect on here.