Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Greek Orthodox Church in
Stony Stratford was built as
an Anglican parish church

The Greek Orthodox Parish Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos on London Road, Stony Stratford … designed as an Anglican parish church by Sir George Gilbert Scott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I have visited a number of churches in the Stony Stratford area in recent weeks. But Stony Stratford is also home to the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, which I have visited on London Road, Stony Stratford.

The parish and community have found their home at the former Anglican parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin on London Road, and the Swinfen Harris Hall next door. The church was designed in 1863-1865 in the Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878), a prolific architect of the Gothic Revival.

When Saint Mary’s Church was built, it was still within Wolverton parish. The church was built in stone in the Early English style, with lancet windows, an apse, south porch, nave, aisles and a bellcote. However, some commentators described the church as ‘dullish’.

The Swinfen Harris Church Hall is the former parish hall beside the former church. The hall was built in 1892 by the local architect Edward Swinfen Harris, and is a beautiful listed building on London Road.

Inside the Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Mary’s Church closed when the parish was amalgamated with Saint Giles on High Street after a fire had damaged the interior of Saint Giles on 26 December 1964.

Saint Giles was restored and renovated and renamed as the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, and for a time Saint Mary’s served the people of the London Road area as a community centre.

The Greek Orthodox Community of Milton Keynes was founded on 1 December 1989, when Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain presided at the first service.

At first, services took place at noon on occasional Sundays. But eventually a pattern was established for the last Sunday of the month at 11:30. Easter, Christmas, Palm Sunday, the Annunciation, the Dormition and other major feasts were also celebrated regularly.

As part of the community, a Greek school was established. After moving from one venue to another, the school eventually found hospitality at the Lord Grey School in Bletchley. Qualified teachers continue to be supported by the Education Ministries in Greece and Cyprus.

The iconostasis in the Church of Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

As Milton Keynes expanded, the Greek Orthodox community grew too, with new members arriving from Greece and Cyprus, but also from South Africa, and numbers were added to with the arrival of Orthodox Christians from Russia and Eastern European countries.

With generous and substantial support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Greek Orthodox community in Milton Keynes was able to offer to buy the freehold of the former Saint Mary’s Church in Stony Stratford in September 2006.

After a prolonged period of negotiations that lasted almost 2½ year, the purchase was finalised on 11 May 2009. The church and the Swinfen Harris Hall now meet the liturgical, educational and social needs of the Greek Orthodox community, the Hellenic Club and the wider Orthodox communities in the Milton Keynes area.

The Epitaphios in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Inside the church, the iconostasis or icon screen, separating the chancel from the nave, is a low screen with traditional icons.

The church walls have a number of icons of saints and Biblical figures, including the patrons of the church, Saint Ambrosios and Saint Stylianos, Saint Joseph the Hesychast and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, and icons of Christ and the Virgin Mary that greet visitors in the church porch.

Many of the original architectural details of this Victorian church survive, and it is possible to discern that this is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott.

The church and hall are surrounded by extensive grounds and gardens and the hall is available for hire.

Saint Joseph the Hesychast and Saint Paisios of Mount Athos … two icons in the Greek Orthodox Church in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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