02 April 2023
Saint Andrew’s Church, Rugby:
William Butterfield’s most highly
refined work in ‘Butterfieldtown’
Saint Andrew’s Church, the parish church in the centre of Rugby, is one finest examples of the work of the Victorian architect William Butterfield (1814-1900). It is an impressive, large church and was designed by Butterfield in the high Tractarian style.
The church has two towers and claims to be the only parish church in the world with two sets of ringable bells, hung in separate towers.
The first record of a church at the site is in 1140. The first mention of a parish church was in 1140. The church was named Saint Andrew ‘Castle,’ and may have been built near Regent Place by Sir Henry de Rokeby. The castle was demolished in 1157 on the orders of Henry II.
The early church was a chapel of the parish church in Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, and Rugby only became a parish in 1221, when there is the first record of a priest, Simon the Deacon. The church was re-dedicated to Pope Nicholas IV in 1298, possibly when the town became an independent parish.
Nothing remains of the original church, which was rebuilt in the 13th or 14th century.
The oldest surviving part of the church is the west tower, which rises to a height of 22 metre (72 ft). This tower is unusual in appearance and looks more like a castle tower. This may indicate it was built to serve a defensive as well as religious role. But local legend says the tower was built with stones from the castle at Rugby that was demolished on the orders of Henry II. The west tower is usually dated to the 14th century, but if it was built during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272) it is Rugby’s oldest building.
The church has other mediaeval artefacts, including the 13th-century parish chest, and a mediaeval font.
Saint Andrew’s had become badly neglected by 1652, and following complaints about its dangerous condition it was renovated and enlarged. With the rapid growth of the population of Rugby in the 19th century, it again became necessary to enlarge and improve the church.
When the Revd John Murray was the Rector of Rugby, the decision was taken to entirely rebuild it. It was extensively rebuilt on a much larger footprint in the 19th century, to the designs of the Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield between 1877 and 1879.
Butterfield is particularly associated with the Oxford Movement or Tractarian Movement. He was strongly influenced by both AWN Pugin and John Ruskin, and is noted for his use of polychromy, which is brash in his buildings at Rugby School in 1868-1872. Other significant buildings by Butterfield include All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London; Keble College, Oxford; Saint Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne; Saint Mark’s Church, Dundela, Belfast, which is associated with CS Lewis’s childhood; and the renovation of Saint Mary and Saint Michael Church in Trumpington, near Cambridge.
The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described Rugby as ‘Butterfieldtown’ because of the number of buildings in the town designed by William Butterfield in the 19th century, including much of Rugby School and the rebuilding of Saint Andrew’s Church.
Some architectural critics consider the interior of Saint Andrew’s to be the pinnacle of Butterfield’s most highly refined work. It has been described as representing ‘a competent Victorian design with distinctive elements and style strongly influenced by early mediaeval English architecture.’
The foundation stone for Butterfield’s rebuilt church was laid on 16 June 1877 by Dr Frederick Temple, Bishop of Exeter, former headmaster of Rugby School and later Archbishop of Canterbury.
Over the next three years, the architect William Butterfield and builders Parnell and Son were commissioned to complete the work costing over £20,000. The only parts of the mediaeval church retained by Butterfield were the West Tower and nave arcade.
The church is built of Bath stone with some detailing in red Alton stone, and is set under a grey slate roof.
The Reredos behind the High Altar is a painting by Alec Millar (1909), based on Fra Angelico’s painting of the Transfiguration (1441). The original of this is in Saint Mark’s Monastery in Florence.
Above the reredos and High Altar, the East Window is by Clayton and Bell and is probably the richest window in the church in terms of colour. It depicts Christ in Glory and a picture of heaven as described in Revelation 4.
Christ is seated on a throne as a king surrounded by elders. The sea contains eight crowns. Christ holds an orb that represents the world and his rule over it. The five lamps of the sanctuary represent God’s Temple in Heaven, the four creatures the four evangelists and the Lamb of God is carrying a flag with a red cross, representing the cross of Christ and his defeat of death in the Resurrection.
The equally impressive West Window is also by Clayton and Bell and depicts the account of the Crucifixion in John 19. The focus is on Christ and the subdued colours contrast with the beauty of the window. The two criminals are on crosses on either side of Christ, with Saint John, the Virgin Mary, Saint Mary Magdalene and Mary Cleophas at the foot of the cross. A jar on the ground contained the vinegar offered to Christ when he was thirsty. The soldiers are shown casting lots for his clothing.
The lower series of illustrations represent major events in Christ’s life. The sequence follows a mediaeval pattern reading from the bottom up and left to right. In sequence are shown the Annunciation, Christ’s birth, his Baptism, his teaching in the Temple, the Last Supper with the disciples – Judas is shown leaving with his 30 pieces of silver – his trial by Pilate, Christ being placed in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, Christ risen with the two angels who were present at the tomb, Christ appearing to Saint Mary Magdalene, and Christ with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The internal features designed by Butterfield for Saint Andrew’s include the font, pulpit, pews, choir stalls, organ case, the large embossed lion-based brass candlesticks, the altar rails and the reredos candlesticks.
A mosaic near the organ is the work of the famous Italian company of Antonio Salviati of Murano, Venice.
Ewan Christian made further additions to Butterfield’s original designs in 1895-1896, including a new east tower, added in 1895, with a spire that is 55 metres (182 ft) high. The design of the east tower and spire are said to resemble other works by Butterfield, including Adelaide Cathedral.
The mediaeval font, in which Lawrence Sheriff, the founder of Rugby School, was baptised, was replaced in 1743 and moved to the courtyard of the Eagle Hotel. There it served as a trough for the pump until it was rescued by the Rugby historian Matthew Bloxam. It was taken to the Percival Guildhouse garden until the 1950s, when it was finally restored to Saint Andrew’s.
Very unusually, both church towers at Saint Andrew’s have ringable bells. The main peal of bells, cast in 1896 by Mears and Stainbank of Whitechapel Foundry, London, are in the east tower. The old peal, all cast in 1711 by Joseph Smith of Edgbaston, are in the west tower.
The Revd John Moultrie, Rector of Rugby in 1825-1875, was the father of the hymnwriter the Revd Gerard Moultrie (1829-1895), who was born in Rugby Rectory and who translated the Greek hymn ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence.’
Other clergy of note in Saint Andrew’s include the Revd Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy (1883-1926), known as ‘Woodbine Willie,’ who was a curate there in 1908-1912, and the theologian Professor Robin Gill, known for his work in the field of ethics, who was a curate there in 1968-1971.
‘Woodbine Willie’ became a national hero during World War I when he served as an army chaplain, and earned his nickname from his habit of distributing cigarettes to soldiers. When he came back to Rugby to preach in the church on 30 May 1926, so many people came to listen that many were unable to get in.
Saint Andrew’s is in the Diocese of Coventry and stands in the Liberal Catholic tradition of the Church of England. It is part of the Major Churches Network, which includes non-cathedral churches such as Bath Abbey, Saint Mary the Great, Cambridge, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, London, Saint Martin in the Bull Ring, Birmingham, and Saint Mary the Virgin, Saffron Walden.
The Rector of Saint Andrew’s, the Revd Canon Dr Edmund Newey, is a former Sub Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.
Saint Andrew’s Church is open every day. The community café, the ‘Thirteen Bells Café’, is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm.
The Sunday services are at 8 am (said Holy Communion, 10:30 am (the Parish Eucharist) and 6 pm. There is a Reflective Eucharist on Tuesdays at 9:30 am and Wednesdays at midday. There is a free classical music concert (sometimes jazz) every Tuesday lunchtime at 1 pm, and a series of community events on Saturday mornings.
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