I loves me a church or temple, especially tucked way in the metropolis of London. There is something soothing, uplifting and endlessly fascinating about spires, minarets and gloriously stained glass windows shining their jewelled tones on a polished floor.
At university when I was studying architecture, we were asked to compare and contrast two very different styles of churches, but expressly forbidden to discuss the religious aspects. I decided to rebel and do it anyway because you can’t really have one without the other – if it wasn’t for the religion, you wouldn’t have the church in the first place.
I’m not religious – I attended church as a munchkin, but it was a fairly liberal one and I’ve never really been back (though there was a time that I was a Bishop’s PA). There have been atrocities committed in the name of the Church, there is no hiding that, but the vast majority of church-goers are good people who try and live their lives well, giving back to the community.
My favourite aspect of the buildings? The care and love and attention that has gone into creating these majestic buildings to reflect this faith. Without their religion (and a fair bit of competition one suspects) these beautiful buildings wouldn’t have been created and architectural talent not flexed.
My favourite London edifices that welcome any and everyone to spend some time there?
BAPS SHRI SWAMINARAYAN MANDIR – NEASDEN TEMPLE
With the exotic spice of incense, a bevvy of beautiful Hindu gods playing instruments along the filigree walls of Neasden Temple welcomes visitors down an unassuming North London residential street, to a slice of India. Tucked in amongst terraces of British semi-detached two-up two-downs, the Neasden Temple rises like a beacon amongst steady red brick and aluminium windows. It is utterly beautiful, and even more so in consideration of the surprising setting.
St Clement Danes Church, Temple
Guess what I accidentally stumbled upon? St Clement Danes just as the bells were ringing. The original Wren church was badly damaged in 1948 by enemy fire, rebuilt in 1958 and was dedicated to the RAF. “For over 1,000 years a church has stood on this spot. Tradition holds that it was originally built by Danes expelled from the City of London by King Alfred in the ninth century.”
The bells still peal their merry, macabre tune, and every single time I walk past I’m transfixed. So transfixed that a few years ago I went and found all of the East London churches mentioned in the nursery rhyme.
TEMPLE CHURCH, Temple
2,000 years of history, Hollywood film crews and a rounded honey-stoned church still bring visitors through the beautiful, religious heart of the medieval Inner and Middle Temple, two of England’s four ancient societies of lawyers the Inns of Court.
Built by the Knights Templar, the order of crusading monks and pious noblemen founded to protect pilgrims on their way to and from Jerusalem in the 12th century, the Templars founded an international banking system to fund their enterprises. Fast-forward a few years and cash-strapped Royalty allegedly found themselves unhappily dependent on the finance schemes. And that’s just a scrap of history for Temple Church…
Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna Temple, Watford
A mock Tudor Hare Krishna temple was the last thing I’d expect to see in the Hertfordshire countryside – but then there is the stunning Neasden Temple, a Wimbledon Buddhist temple and several mosques across London, so why am I surprised?
It won’t come as a shock to regular readers (Hi Dad!) that, when I spotted the sign on a mini-roadtrip with my good friend (aka WB) I immediately got to convincing her to pop in with me on our way back to Watford station where a train waiting to shepherd me back into central London. Make sure you visit Bhaktivedanta Manor Hare Krishna Temple – and go hungry.
Southwark Cathedral, London Bridge
But my favourite of them all is one that probably has my face printed on a ‘Lambeth’s Most Wanted’ list in the clergymen’s office. Many moons ago when I was much younger and freshly arrived on these ancient shores I did a Bad Thing which probably, really should have got me deported. I don’t have many regrets, but this is definitely one of them. It wasn’t anything illegal, violent or intentionally nasty and it brought tears to my eyes.
Oh, and Southwark Cathedral have a cat. Well, they were adopted by a feline fellow who they named Dawkins.
I have many more on my London churches and temples on my list to visit – Buddhist retreats, Synagogues, spiritual-retreats-cum-coffee-shops… do you have any recommendations for me?
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