For those who like church architecture .........
This is an arresting, and somewhat incongruous sight in the middle of the English countryside - the Church of St Mary, in the village of Itchen Stoke, near Winchester, Hampshire.
Built in the 1860s, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the architecture is clearly, and very deliberately inspired by the gothic medieval churches of northern France. St Mary's no longer functions as a church, but is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust, and is open to the public.
Itchen Stoke, which lies on the banks of the River Itchen, is a very old village, dating back to at least 960, when it was known as Ytinstoce. There was once a medieval church here, but it had fallen into such a state of disrepair by the nineteenth century, that a new church was built in 1830/31.
This is one of two brasses in St Mary's, thought to date from c. 1500, which is all that remains of the old church.
By the middle of the century, however, there was much interest in the Continental gothic style, and it was determined that a grander and more ornate church should be built in the village, and this led to the development of the St Mary's church that stands there today.
The vicar at that time was the Reverend Charles Ranken Conybeare and he had good cause to be interested in architecture. His wife Elizabeth was the daughter of the antiquarian and writer on church architecture, James Haywood Markland, but even more significantly, the Reverend's brother Henry was a civil engineer and architect who, aside from designing Bombay's municipal waterworks, also designed the Afghan Church in that city, built to commemorate those who fell in the Afghan War of 1839-42.The Afghan Church, Bombay, Photo by "Nichalp", Wikipedia
St Mary's in Hampshire was therefore the second church that he designed, and the building is great testament to his skill as an architect, and to the vision of his brother.
Although not a literal copy of either church, the inspiration for St Mary's was chiefly Sainte Chapelle in Paris, and its successor chapel, built onto the east end of the abbey church of St Germer-de-Fly in Picardy. Other influences present in the church include the stained glass, which is said to be copied from designs in Le Mans and Auxerre, and the font, which was inspired by the tomb of Mary of Burgundy in the church of Our Lady at Bourges. There is also a Chartres inspired labyrinth on the floor by the altar. More on all of these below.
The overall aesthetic is very much in the French medieval gothic tradition.
Looking down the nave from the west entrance:
But aside from the lines and proportions of this very elegant structure, it also has much decoration and detailing of interest.
The pattern of grey and green tiles on the roof, for example.
And this decorative tiling around the bell-cote.
The ceiling inside is decorated with five-petalled flowers. The immense height of this ceiling, within a long and narrow structure, is one of the most impressive features of the church when you stand there.
The stained glass is richly ornate, and it is thought that the absence of any depictions of saints or of biblical scenes is an indication of the Low Church leanings of Revd Conybeare.
This eight-petal rose window is above the west entrance.
This is the floor around the altar. It depicts a labyrinth, inspired by the one at Chartres.
The font at the west end. The black marble base was donated by the architect in commemoration of his daughter Edith May, who sadly died in childhood. The main part is surrounded by columns of Californian marble, which was a new material in England at the time.
When the church was completed in 1867 it must have made for quite a sight, rising up out of the Hampshire meadows. It's impact was considerable, and it was the subject of a special feature in The Builder
magazine the following year. It may no longer function as a church, but when you go there you appreciate the vision and enterprise of the Conybeare brothers for having left behind this beautiful and lovingly crafted construction.
I am indebted to the architectural historian Geoff Brandwood, from whose superb pamphlet on the church much of the above information was obtained.
This is a link to the Churches Conservation Trust who do such great work in preserving this church and others like it for the benefit of future generations.http://www.visitchurches.org.uk/