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Archbishop Visits Redeveloped St Martin in the Fields Church

The Archbishop with Revd Nick Holtam & Mr Ian Henderson

Friday 14th March 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams visited the redeveloped St Martin in the Fields Church - ahead of its official reopening on 28 April - to view the significantly improved facilities for the community, visitors and homeless and to meet the individuals contributing to the project and the ministry of the Parish.

Dr Williams toured the £36 million renovation escorted by the Vicar of St Martin in the Fields, the Reverend Nick Holtam, the Chairman of the Development Trust, Mr Ian Henderson, and the architect Eric Parry. The money has been invested to improve the 18th Century Church, designed by James Gibbs, as well as to create a sequence of beautiful, inspirational and practical subterranean spaces. These spaces have been excavated from an area the size of an acre under the churchyard to provide public spaces for the local community, offices and orchestral rehearsal rooms; including a stunning 60m-long by 16m-wide double height underground gallery which will play host to around 1 million visitors per annum. The project architect, Eric Parry, revealed to the Archbishop his design of balanced positive and negative spatial elements through the creation of a glass walled pavilion with a domed roof rising into the churchyard, and a dramatic figure-of-eight oculus allowing a shaft of light into the underground gallery with splendid views of the spire rising above.

During the visit, Dr Williams explored the new St Martin's Hall, the Neville Marriner Room and the Dick Sheppard Chapel. He visited The John Nash North Range buildings, where Colin Glover, the Chief Executive of The Connection charity at St Martin in the Fields, explained that the building will provide a safe place and give opportunity for the homeless and needy to make the transition to independent living, where they can make use of the building 24 hours a day throughout the year. During the rebuilding and renovation, the Connection has been operating out of temporary structures and Dr Williams visited these facilities to meet some of the homeless and hear about the implications the redevelopment will have on their wellbeing.

Speaking to Radio 4's Sally Flatman, Dr Williams reflected on the impact the renovations would have on the ministry of the Church saying, "Any Church is a building that doesn't just belong to the people who happen to go there regularly. It's a space where you can take the things that don't go anywhere else and where people who don't feel at home anywhere else ought to be able to feel at home. Now part of the legacy of St Martin's over many, many years has been that it is that kind of place, that kind of space for people, right in the middle of London here's somewhere that doesn't just belong to the group who use it most regularly or the group who use it most religiously, it belongs to anyone who wants to come in and who wants to find a home here and I think all this new development is just intensifying that tremendous legacy of being a place which belongs to everybody".

The new stained glass window glimpsed through scaffoldingUpon returning to the main nave of the Church, the Archbishop met the Turner nominated artist Shirazeh Houshiary to discuss her design of the new stained glass window at the east end of the Church featuring an ellipse at the centre of a cross. Explaining her work, Ms Houshiary told the Archbishop, "The window is like a veil; it is the warp and weft of the veil. I was very much influenced by the Veil of St Veronica by Francisco Zurbarán and when the face (of Jesus) touched the veil it left its imprint not painted on top but in the veil, so the veil itself is the reality and it becomes a threshold between the interiority and the exteriority. It is never fixed and we are constantly moved by this light".

In an interview with John Wilson for Radio 4's arts and culture show Front Row, the Archbishop of Canterbury said, "(The window is) a piece of really effective modern art. I think it conveys a real sense of flow. You've got the cross pattern, the inviting central ellipse in the middle and the subtle patterning all around which makes you see the whole thing rather like a cross reflected in water and somehow that's a very peaceful and yet very challenging symbol all at once".

Concluding his tour of the renovated Church, Dr Williams spoke to the group managing the renewal of St Martins saying, "I am really delighted to have had the chance to see ninety percent or so of what's going to happen and I think that it has really sowed the seeds for the next visit. I've been struck by two things on this visit; one is exactly what you have said about the teamwork and the sense of this being a load spread across a lot of people of varying skills and resources and that's hugely important for the future, for the sense pulling together as a joined up exercise – the Church and its surrounds for the future. And the other thing is, just visually what I was saying in one of the interviews a little while ago, it feels bigger and I don't just mean that literally because there is a sort of metaphorical growth and spaciousness about it as well and it has always been a big place in its vision, in its compassion and this just looks as if it is going to make it bigger and its wonderful to hear. So what can I say except congratulations everybody and thank you for bringing us in to see a little bit of it. God bless for the next phase and I trust that it will be finished!"

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