05 October 2022

The Christian Science church
in Chelsea that was rescued
and became a concert hall

The Cadogan Hall in Chelsea is a former Christian Science Church designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm in the Byzantine Revival style with some eastern elements (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The Cadogan Hall is a 950-seat concert hall in the heart of Chelsea, off Sloane Square and Sloane Street, between Sloane Terrace and Wilbraham Place. This impressive building is the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It is only steps away from Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, and with its domed campanile it too looks a church or, perhaps even, a mosque – because the building was designed as a Christian Science Church over a century ago.

The church was designed by Robert Fellowes Chisholm (1840-1915), and when it opened in 1907 it could hold a congregation of up to 1,400 people.

The Christian Science movement was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston in 1879. The first Christian Scientists on these islands were Graves Colles and Marjorie Colles of Killiney, Co Dublin, some time around 1888-1893, and Christian Science came to Britain in 1890.

Mary Baker Eddy sent students to London, where fashionable West End women began to be attracted to it. The first Christian Science services in London were in one of the Portman Rooms, Baker Street and Dorset Street, in February 1896.

Three years after the original ‘Mother Church’ was completed in Boston, the London congregation moved into the old Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Bryanston Street, near Marble Arch, in 1897.

The former Sephardic synagogue in Marylebone was built in 1861, but closed in 1896 when the congregation moved to Lauderdale Road. The building was remodelled and when it opened in late 1897 it was the first Christian Science church in Europe.

The former Christian Science church was built on the site of a disused Wesleyan chapel in Chelsea in 1904-1909 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Less than two decades later, the members bought a disused Wesleyan chapel on a freehold site in Chelsea for almost £40,000 in April 1903 and hired Chisholm as the architect for a new church. When building their own churches, Christian Scientists looked to their churches in Boston as examples. But Chisholm had worked in eastern architectural idioms in India, and provided a completely original design for the new Christian Science church in London.

However, a more traditional plan was asked for, and Chisholm provided a more traditional design in the Byzantine Revival style, with some eastern elements and seven coupled windows across the fa├žade.

Chisholm was a pioneer the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture in Madras. The Indo-Saracenic style was also known as Indo-Gothic, Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal, or Hindoo style. This revivalist architectural style was used by many British architects in India in the late 19th century, especially in public and government buildings for the British Raj and palaces for princely rulers. It drew stylistic and decorative elements from native Indo-Islamic architecture, especially Mughal architecture, and, less often, from Hindu temple architecture.

Chisholm was born in London and even in his youth he was recognised as a talented landscape painter. He moved to Madras in 1865, where he became head of the school of industrial art.

Chisholm began to design the older building of Presidency College, Madras (1865-1870). His first buildings were in the Renaissance and Gothic styles, and he designed or rebuilt the Presidency College, Madras (1865-1870), the Nilgiri Library (1869) and the Lawrence Memorial School in in Ootacamund (1865-1869). The revenue board building in the Chepauk Palace complex (1871) was his first building in the ‘Indo-Saracenic’ style.

Chisholm became Consulting Architect to the Government of Madras in 1872, and designed the Napier Museum, Trivandrum, the Senate buildings of the University of Madras (1874-1879), the offices of P Orr & Sons and the Post and Telegraph Office in Ootacamund (1875-1883), and he enlarged and built a pavilion at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. He also designed the Bombay Municipal Offices and the immense Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda (Vadodara) in 1880-1890.

Robert Fellowes Chisolm incorporated both classical and Byzantine elements in his design of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Chisholm returned to London in 1902, and his best-known building there was the First Church of Christ Scientist or Cadogan Hall near Sloane Square. He died on 28 May 1915 at Southsea at the age of 75.

The cornerstone of the Christian Science church was made of granite from Concord, New Hampshire, and was laid on 19 November 1904. As the church was being built, Christian Scientists in London had so grown in influence that over 9,000 people were invited to a Christian Science lecture by an American Bicknell Young in the Albert Hall in 1907.

The new church was built at a cost of £40,000 and was dedicated on 13 June 1909.

The church was built in the Byzantine style in Portland stone ashlar. It has a five-bay granite arcade on the ground storey, seven round-headed two-light windows above with carved capitals, a central entrance, and a dome-capped campanile at the south-east corner.

An architectural critic called the church an ‘Indian Reminiscence in Chelsea’ and suggested that ‘one would not be surprised to see a muezzin call the faithful to prayer’ from the tower’s ‘lofty outlook.’

He told the readers of the Evening Standard that the ‘decorative details … are of an Anglo-Norman type well suited to the monumental character of the design.’ But, because it Christian Science was a religion from America, ‘its projectors were under the influence of [Henry Hobson] Richardson, that architect who has invested American architecture with proportions almost Cyclopean.’

The Architect and Contract Reporter thought differently: ‘The particular style of architecture for a Christian Science church should present no difficulties. The very early churches were mostly pagan temples converted into churches; when constructed as churches they exhibited many Eastern features.’ The writer was implying that Christian Science was returning to the time of primitive Christianity, where both classical and Byzantine designs were historically located.

The church had a three-manual pipe organ built by JW Walker & Sons in 1907 and installed in 1911. It was on a raised position on the platform.

The stained-glass windows were designed by the Danish artist and aristocrat Baron Arild Rosenkrantz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The stained-glass windows were designed by the Danish painter, sculptor and artist, Baron Arild Rosenkrantz (1870-1964). He studied art in Rome under Modesto Faustini, who instilled an appreciation of the Italian masters. Rosenkrantz later studied under Jean-Paul Laurens and Benjamin Constant in Paris and was also influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, JMW Turner, William Blake and Claude Monet.

When he was studying in the US in 1894-1895, Rosenkrantz made glasswork for Tiffany. While he lived in London in 1898-1914, he developed his reputation as an artist and made stained-glass windows for a wide range of English churches and mansions, including the Christian Science church in Chelsea.

Under the influence of Rudolf Steiner, Rosenkranktz and his wife moved to Dornach in Switzerland, but they returned to London after Steiner died in 1925. Back in London, he designed costumes, created stage decorations and decorated the interior of two theatres.

Rosenkrantz returned to Denmark in 1939 to organise an exhibition in Copenhagen for his 70th birthday in 1940. However, Nazi Germany invaded Denmark and he found it impossible to return to London was impossible. His moved to Rosenholm Castle in Jutland and died in 1964.

The Christian Science church in Chelsea was listed a Grade II building in 1969.

The congregation had fallen dramatically by 1996 and the building fell into disuse as a smaller congregation moved to Kensington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The congregation had fakken dramatically by 1996. When a smaller congregation moved to an updated church building in Wright’s Lane in Kensington, the hall was sold and fell into disuse for several years.

Mohamed Fayed, then owner of Harrods, had bought the property, but because of its listed status he was unable to secure permission to convert it into a palatial luxury house.

Cadogan Estates bought the building in 2000 to safeguard its future. The property company is owned by Lord Cadogan, whose ancestors have been the main landowners in Chelsea since the 18th century, and the family gives its names to many nearby addresses, including Cadogan Square, Cadogan Place, Sloane Square, Sloane Street and Sloane Terrace.

Through its connections with Opera Holland Park, the Cadogan Estate found that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was looking for a permanent base in London. Cadogan Hall was an excellent opportunity for the orchestra to benefit from the Cadogan Estate’s aim to bring the former church back to life in a way that befitted its character and civic presence.

The building was refurbished by Paul Davis and Partners Architects at a cost of £7.5 million. The changes included new lighting and sound systems and bespoke acoustic ceiling modules in the performance space. The hall reopened as a concert hall in 2004.

The 1911 Walker organ was carefully dismantled and put into store. The original intention was to install the organ in a church in the Midlands. Instead, however, it was installed in Christ the King Catholic Church in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2009-2010. Walker’s organ case, an integral part of the character of the auditorium, remains in place in the concert hall.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), now the resident music ensemble at Cadogan Hall, is the first London orchestra to have a permanent home. It gave its first concert as the resident ensemble of Cadogan Hall in November 2004.

Cadogan Hall has become one of London’s leading venues. Its surroundings makes it a choice for some leading orchestras and the chosen venue for the BBC Proms Chamber Music Series. It also offers a vibrant selection of contemporary, jazz, folk and world music events as well as talks, debates and conferences.

Cadogan Hall is the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and one of London’s leading venues (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Wednesday 5 October 2022

The supposed house of Saint Margaret Clitherow is on the right in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Jewish Calendar, today is Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, marked with an emphasis on atonement and repentance and observed with full fasting and intensive prayer confessions. I joined in the Kol Nidre prayers and commemorations last night in Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week, I am continuing last week’s theme of reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Luke 11: 1-4 (NRSVA):

1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ 2 He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.’

Inside the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in the Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow, The Shambles, York:

One of the most unusual religious sites among the mediaeval churches and shrines in York must be the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in a small house on the Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was executed on the bridge in York after harbouring a priest and refusing to reveal his whereabout or to abjure her faith.

However, the shrine is not actually in Margaret Clitherow’s house. She probably lived at 11-12 The Shambles, but her shrine is in a similar Tudor house across the street at 35-36 The Shambles.

Margaret Clitherow was born in 1553, the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton. Her father was a wax-chandler and Sheriff of York in 1564, a churchwarden of Saint Martin’s Church, Colney Street, and a member of a respectable, prosperous, Church of England family.

At the age of 15, she married a prosperous meat merchant, John Clitherow (or Clitheroe), a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city. She moved into his house in The Shambles, where the butchers of York traded, and they were the parents of three children.

Margaret became a Roman Catholic in 1574 through the influence of the wife of Dr Thomas Vavasour, a prominent Catholic in York. This was a problem for John Clitherow, who was responsible for reporting suspected Catholics to the authorities. But it seems that for the most part, her husband. His brother William was a Catholic priest, and John was happy to look the other way and tolerate her religious activities and her insistence on educating their children as Catholics.

Around the same time, Canon Henry Comberford, former Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral, was in prison in York. From his prison cell in the Upper Sheriff’s Kidcote on Ouse Bridge, he spread his beliefs among his fellow prisoners. As his fame grew, people outside the prison walls sought audiences with him. The confessions of at least two York prisoners, William Tessimond and John Fletcher, suggest the influence of Comberford’s teaching.

The historian John Aveling points out the importance of Henry Comberford in the development of recusancy in York. He attributes to him no small part in the growth in number of recusants in the city from only 15 in 1568, to 67 in 1576.

However, in 1577, Margaret was cast into prison, not for worshipping as a Catholic, but for failing to attend Anglican services. Two further prison sentences followed, the longest lasting 20 months. While she was in prison, she learned to read Latin so she could follow the Catholic liturgy.

An Act of Parliament in 1581 made it an offence to worship at a Catholic service or to offer a hiding place to Catholic priests. Harbouring a priest was an offence punishable by death. The method of execution involved being pressed to death under a heavy weight, an extreme sentence that was rarely carried out.

Margaret Clitherow built a secret chamber inside her house in The Shambles, where priests could hide. Her home became one of the most important hiding places for fugitive priests in the north of England. Local tradition also says she housed her clerical guests in The Black Swan at Peasholme Green, where the Queen’s agents were lodged too.

She made a secret cupboard, where she hid vestments, as well as bread and wine for the Mass.

Her house in the Shambles was raided in March 1586. A priest who was sheltering in the house managed to escape, but a frightened boy revealed the location of the secret chamber.

Margaret Clitherow was arrested and tried at the Guildhall in York. She refused a trial by jury, saying, ‘I know of no offence whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offence, I need no trial.’

The judges tried in vain to persuade her to avoid the death sentence by renouncing her Catholic faith or reveal the hiding place of priests and so, but Margaret refused. She found little sympathy, even among her family, and her stepfather, Henry May, then Lord Mayor of York, said that she had committed suicide.

Margaret Clitherow was taken to the Toll Booth on the Ouse Bridge on 25 March 1586, the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady Day) and that year also Good Friday. There she was crushed to death by door of her own house, weighing 7-8 cwt, or about 800-900 lb. She died within 15 minutes, although her body was left for six hours before the weight was removed.

Queen Elizabeth I wrote to the citizens of York, expressing her horror at the execution, and saying that Margaret should have been spared because of her gender.

The English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote an unfinished poem honouring ‘God’s daughter Margaret Clitheroe.’ She was canonised on 25 October 1970 as one of 40 English martyrs by Pope Paul VI, who called her ‘the Pearl of York.’

Saint Margaret’s Shrine is at 35-36 The Shambles. John Clitherow had his butcher's shop at 35. However, the street was re-numbered in the 18th century, so it is thought their house was actually opposite.

Her supposed house is now a shrine served by the Fathers of the Oratory in York and is open to all. One room open to the public is used as a small chapel with a plaque telling the story of Margaret Clitherow’s life. Mass is celebrated at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. A relic said to be her hand is housed in the Bar Convent, York, which I described in my reflections yesterday. A plaque at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge in York marks the site of her martyrdom.

Looking out on the city … a window in the Shrine of Saint Margaret Clitherow in The Shambles, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Wednesday 5 October 2022):

The Collect:

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
you have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with our whole heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Mission in a Crisis.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Father Rasika Abeysinghe, Priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala, Church of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (5 October 2022, World Teachers’ Day) in these words:

Let us give thanks for teachers across the world. May we recognise the value in what they do, and be inspired by the example they set for the youth of today.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Ouse Bridge in York, where Margaret Clitherow was martyred on 25 March 1586 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

A plaque at the Micklegate end of the Ouse Bridge marks the site of the martyrdom of Margaret Clitherow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)