08 November 2022

An Orthodox cathedral
in London inspired by
a monument in Athens

All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral, on the corner of Camden Street and Pratt Street in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I have not managed to visit Greece this year, although I have visited a number of Greek churches, including the Greek cathedral in Venice, which I described on this blog yesterday, and the Greek Orthodox parish church in Stony Stratford.

When I was in London last week, I decided to visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Camden Town, which is a ten-minute walk from Euston Road, where I had visited Saint Pancras Church. The church door was ajar, but as I pushed it open I set off the alarms. Full of apologies, I rang the number on the church noticeboard, and so I never got inside the church – at least, not this time.

All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral, on the corner of Camden Street and Pratt Street in London, is both a cathedral and a parish church in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain under the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Although the cathedral was first designed as an Anglican church, its architectural design displays interesting Greek inspiration – and the story of the church also recalls the 1798 Rising in Ireland.

The church was originally a Church of England church, All Saints’ Church, Camden Town, within Saint Pancras Parish.

Camden Town was developed from the 1790s on within Saint Pancras parish, then a largely rural parish on the northern fringes of London. Saint Pancras was one of the oldest parish churches in England, but it had been in gradual decline since the 14th century when the bulk of the parish population became the northern parts of what was becoming Kentish Town and Camden Town.

A new parish church, Saint Pancras New Church, on Euston Road in the south of the parish, was consecrated in 1822. But this church, which I described on this blog yesterday (7 November 2022), was intended mainly to serve the population in its immediate vicinity. A Church Building Act in 1818 facilitated building new churches in many new districts in London, including All Saints’ Church in Camden Town.

The church was built in 1822-1824 as part of Lord Camden’s development of the area. John Jeffreys Pratt, 1st Marquess Camden (1759-1840) and 2nd Earl Camden, had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1795-1798 and Secretary of State for War and the Colonies in 1804-1805.

One of Camden’s first actions was the introduction of the bill in 1795 to establish Maynooth College. However, his time in Ireland was turbulent, culminating in the 1798 Rising. His refusal in 1797 to reprieve the United Irishman William Orr, convicted of treason on the word of one witness of dubious credit, aroused great public indignation. To break the United Irish conspiracy, he suspended habeas corpus and unleashed a ruthless martial-law campaign. He resigned immediately after the suppression of the rising.

The church built on Camden’s estate in London in 1822-1824 was first known as the Camden Chapel and then, unofficially, as Saint Stephen’s. It became All Saints’ Church in 1920.

The Monument of Lysicrates in Athens inspired the Inwoods’ design of the tower at All Saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The church was designed by the father and son team, William and Henry Inwood, who also designed Saint Pancras New Church. In both cases, they were inspired by Classical Greek architecture. At All Saints, their inspiration for the tower was the Monument of Lysicrates in the Plaka in Athens.

The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates near the Acropolis was erected by the choregos Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of musical performances in the Theatre of Dionysus, to commemorate the prize in the dithyramb contest of the City Dionysia. Lysicrates was the liturgist of the performance in 335/334 BCE.

The monument, also known as Diogenes’ Lantern, is the first known use of the Corinthian order on the exterior of a building. It became part of a French Capuchin monastery in the 1650s and 1660s, and Lord Byron stayed at the monastery during his second visit to Greece.

It has been reproduced widely in modern monuments and building elements, including All Saints in Camden, and Saint Stephen’s Church in Mount Street Crescent, Dublin – popularly known as the ‘Pepper Canister Church’. However, contemporary writers and later architectural critics such as Sir John Summerson argued that the tower in Camden is too thin in proportion to the body of the church.

The Inwoods’ design of the tower at All Saints is often said to be too thin in proportion to the body of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

All Saints is a large building of yellow stock brick, with east and west ends faced in Portland stone. The plan is basically rectangular, with an east apse mirrored by a semi-circular portico at the west end. The interior has a flat ceiling, with galleries on three sides supported by Ionic columns. The Ionic order in the church is based on fragments brought back from Greece by Henry Inwood and now in the British Museum.

The church became a parish church in its own right in 1852. Like many Anglican churches in the Victorian era, it had a large congregation in the mid-19th century. Church attendance figures in 1854 showed 1,650 people on Sunday mornings, 630 on Sunday afternoons and 1,430 on Sunday evenings.

The church was close to a number of important train termini and so suffered some damage during the air raids in World War II. Then, as the 20th century progressed, the congregation fell in numbers.

A large Greek-speaking community, mostly from Cyprus, moved into the area in the decades after World War II. All Saints’ Church became a Greek Orthodox church in 1948, while Saint Michael’s Church, Camden Road, became the main Church of England church in Camden Town.

The Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints was formed after a request to Metropolitan Germanos (Strenopoulos) by a group of Greek-Cypriots for the creation of a second Greek Orthodox church in London. The existing dedication of All Saints’ was retained, and celebrates its patronal feast on the first Sunday after Pentecost.

The first Orthodox liturgy was served at All Saints’ Church on Palm Sunday 25 April 1948, with Archbishop Germanos of Thyateira and Great Britain and Archimandrite Parthenios officiating. The church was later bought by the community and was raised to cathedral status. It was consecrated as a cathedral by Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira, a former parish priest, on 17 November 1991.

Today, the galleried interior is dominated by the icon screen that separates the apse and east end portion from the main body of the church. It was carved in 1974 by Chrysanthos K Taliadorou of Nicosia, who was also responsible for the Holy Table and the ciborium. The main icons on the screen are attributed to a Russian artist living in France, while the icons of the upper range reflect the style of painting in Cyprus.

The windows in the apse include three stained-glass circular panels that probably date from the 18th century and that may be of Flemish or North German origin. They depict the Baptism of Christ, his calling of little children, and the stoning of Saint Stephen. In addition, there is a depiction of the Raising of Jairus’s daughter, in memory of the chaplain of a ship torpedoed during World War I.

The Priest in Charge of the cathedral, the Very Revd Protopresbyter George Zafirakos, was born in Gytheion in Greece in 1949. He studied at the Ecclesiastical Seminary, Patmos (1963-1967), the Ecclesiastical Seminary, Crete (1967-1969), and the Ecclesiastical Academy, Thessaloniki (1969-1972).

He was ordained deacon by Metropolitan Stylianos of Melitoupolis (now Archbishop of Australia) in 1973. He was appointed to All Saints’ Church and was ordained priest by Archbishop Athenagoras II (Kokkinakis) of Thyateira and Great Britain later that year. He became priest-in-charge of the cathedral in 2005. He is also Vice-Chair of the Ecclesiastical Court of the archdiocese.

The church has been renovated a number of times, and it is a Grade I listed building. Many people on Sunday mornings now come to the cathedral from the outer suburbs of London.

All Saints’ Church was built in 1822-1824 as part of Lord Camden’s development of the area (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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