05 June 2024

Three Hindu temples
illustrate the religious
and ethnic diversity
found in Leicester

The former Midland Bank on Granby Street is now a ‘Hare Kishna’ temple … Leicester has about 20 Hindu temples (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Leicester is known as a multi-faith city with a rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. In recent weeks. I have written about churches, the cathedral, synagogues, meeting houses, the Jain and Sikh communities, and the Secular Hall, as examples of the variety of faith communities and belief systems found in Leicester.

About 15 per cent of Leicester’s population are Hindus. When I was in Leicester back in 2011 for a course on interfaith dialogue in Saint Philip’s Centre, our group received a warm welcome at the Shree Sanatan Mandir, a large Hindu temple in Weymouth Street. During my visits to Leicester last month, I learned that the city has about 20 Hindu temples, and I was interested to see some of them as I walked around the city.

Iskcon, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness – known to many as the Hare Krishna movement – has its temple in an elegant building on Granby Street in the centre of Leicester. The former Midland Bank is a Grade II* listed building dating from the early 1870s. The building was designed for the Leicestershire Banking Company in 1872-1873 by the Leicester architect Joseph Goddard (1840-1900).

Goddard was a member of a prominent family of architects and played a major role in introducing Victorian gothic architecture to Leicester with his clock tower. He designed the bank building in the French Gothic Revival style, in striking contrast to the Italianate design of the National Provincial Bank built nearby a few years earlier.

Notable details include the corner porch, French pavilion roofs, and a two-storey-tall stained-glass fa├žade. The spectacular interior featured enormous hammer beams that formed a lantern roof giving the building a lofty and imposing atmosphere.

The elaborate design of the Leicestershire Bank, both inside and outside, was intended to inspire confidence among depositors, while fire-proof corridors and rooms with safes in the basement ensured the physical safety of valuables entrusted to the banks.

The hand-carved pillars incorporated friezes and coat of arms representing cities where the company did business. These carved details on the exterior are the work of the local stonemason Samuel Barfield, who was also responsible for the figures on the Clock Tower in Leicester.

The bank was completed in 1874 at the cost of £7,439. Its immediate success earned Goddard multiple commissions for new banks throughout the East Midland. Many of his buildings are still in use and listed as historic structures by English Heritage.

By the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Leicestershire Bank merged with the London City and Midland Bank, and the building later became a branch of the Midland Bank and then of HSBC.

Joseph Goddard’s details on the bank building include the corner porch and French pavilion roofs (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The former bank was vacant for some years when it was bought by a local family and donated to Iskcon, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, as a temple. Six years earlier, An explosion destroyed their former temple at 21 Thoresby Street in North Evington, in Leicester, on 3 September 2010, when 30 people escaped.

The temple is one of 16 religious and cultural centres Iskcon runs in the UK, and follows the Krishna-centric practices of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in Hinduism. The tradition based on Sanskrit scriptures including the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavat Purana. It is a monotheistic form of Hinduism in which Krishna is worshipped as the highest form of God and the source of all the avatars of God.

The former HSBC bank on Granby Street had been on the market for five years and the bank accepted an original offer of £750,000 in May 2011. But, during the purchase process, the became clear the Grade II listed building needed major renovations to the roof, heating, and lighting systems. English Heritage added the building to a national ‘at risk’ list, saying it needed urgent repairs to save it from falling into ruin.

With an estimated renovation cost of £2 million, the community renegotiated the purchase price to £350,000 with the promise of restoring the building.

The Hare Krishna monks moved into the building in 2016, and the temple was inaugurated in August 2016. The main temple room can host up to 250 guests, and there are offices, two classrooms for the College of Vedic Studies, and a kitchen producing vegetarian food. Further renovations are planned to include a restaurant, library, and exhibition.

The Shree Geeta Bhavan Temple and Hindu Community Centre on Clarendon Park Road (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The second Hindu temple I noticed during my visits to Leicester last month is the Shree Geeta Bhavan Temple and Hindu Community Centre at 70 Clarendon Park Road, run by the Hindu Religious and Cultural Society of Leicester.

This is a more modern building than the other two temples I saw in Leicester in recent weeks. It is said locally to have been used once as part of the buildings of Saint John the Baptist school, which I visited back in 2011. It has been used as a Hindu temple and community centre since the 1980s. A £500,000 extension to the temple was officially opened in July 2010.

The temple says it seeks to meet the spiritual, ritual, ceremonial and social needs of Hindus, respecting and reflecting the diversity that is part of Hindu heritage. It tries to promote mutual respect and tolerance within the Hindu community, with its diverse beliefs and unique traditions.

The aims and objectives of Geeta Bhavan Leicester include providing an umbrella organisation for Hindu temples, faith organisations and groups across the UK, working with other faith groups for mutual appreciation through interfaith dialogue and community cohesion.

The Shirdi Sai Baba Temple Association of London had a temple in the former Guild Hall on Colton Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Until recently, the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple Association of London had its own Hindu temple in the former Guild Hall on Colton Street. The name of this building should not cause confusion with the mediaeval Guildhall near Leicester Cathedral, which was built by the Guild of Corpus Christi and later became the town hall.

The Leicester Guild of the Crippled opened the Guild Hall on Colton Street in 1909 by to provide a social centre for people with physical disabilities. As well as being ‘beautiful and commodious’, this Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau style building was very practical and was designed to be fully accessible. The architects A & TE Sawday designed it on one level, with wide exterior and interior doors for spinal carriages and wheelchairs.

The Leicester Guild of the Crippled was formed in 1898 by Arthur Isaac Groves, a hosiery manufacturer, and his business partner Thomas E Meakin, at the suggestion of Sister Carroll Hogbin. Through her work with the poor of Leicester, she realised that many disabled people were isolated and needed social contact. The Guild Hall provided a centre where the Guild of the Crippled could expand its work and provide activities such as concerts, ‘magic lantern’ evenings, craft classes, excursions and a library.

An industrial training hall was added in 1914 to address the problems disabled people faced in finding employment. Medical services were provided free of charge, including surgery, prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs.

Until recently, the former Guild Hall was used as a temple by the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple Association of London, a Hindu organisation or religious movement of the followers and devotees of the 19th and early 20th century Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi or Shirdi Sai Baba.

Sai Baba (1838-1918) is revered by people from a variety of religious backgrounds. He is called ‘Baba’, meaning father or grandfather, by his devotees who see him as a spiritual guru or saint with divine and miraculous powers. He was a spiritual master and fakir, considered to be a saint, and he was revered by both Hindus and Muslims.

According to the Shri Sai Satcharita, a biography written after his death, his Hindu devotees believed Sai Baba to be an incarnation of the Hindu deity Dattatreya. In his teachings, Sai Baba combined elements of Hinduism and Islam. He emphasised love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, inner peace, and devotion to God and Guru. He condemned discrimination based on religion or caste, and refused to identify himself with one religion to the exclusion of the other.

The former temple and former Guild Hall on Colton Street is in an area that has seen much regeneration in recent years, with new residential and office space bringing new life into the area. Now the sale of the former temple and former Guild Hall is being negotiated, after being on the market in recent months with an asking price of £500,000.

As for the organisation that built the Guild Hall, it moved premises but continues to support disability services. In a reflection of changing attitudes to disability, it was first renamed the Leicester Guild of the Physically Handicapped and since 2000 it has been known as ‘Mosaic 1898.’

The Shree Geeta Bhavan Temple on Clarendon Park Road is part of the religious diversity in Leicester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
27, 5 June 2024

Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, is the only complete mediaeval church in Coventry and one of the largest mediaeval parish churches in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The week began with the First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity I, 2 June 2024). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Boniface (Wynfrith) of Crediton (754), Bishop of Mainz, Apostle of Germany and Martyr, 754.

In the week after Trinity Sunday, I illustrated my prayers and reflections with images and memories of six churches, chapels and monasteries in Greece I know that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity. I am continuing that theme this week with images from churches, chapels or cathedral in England that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

StonyLive!, a celebration of the cultural talent in and around Stony Stratford, began on Saturday and continues until next Sunday (9 June). The StonyLive! Programme continues today with a number of creative events at venues throughout Stony Stratford. They include a concert at 7:30 this evening by the choir of Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, conducted by Jonathan Kingston. I have been part of the choir for the past year or two, and this evening’s programme includes music by Pitoni, Tallis, Schubert, Robert Stone, William Harris, Maurice Bevan and John Rutter.

But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Holy Trinity Church escaped destruction survived the bombing raids on Coventry during World War II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 12: 18-27 (NRSVUE):

18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children, 21 and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children, and the third likewise; 22 none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”

24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when people rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

Inside Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Coventry:

Holy Trinity Church is the only complete mediaeval church in Coventry and one of the largest mediaeval parish churches in England. It is also one of the few major buildings in Coventry that escaped destruction during the bombing raids in World War II. But it was not because of a lucky escape … the vicar of Holy Trinity, Canon Graham Clitheroe, and a team of firefighters bravely averted the danger from the falling incendiaries during the heaviest raid on 14 November 1940.

Although the first record of Holy Trinity Church dates from the early 12th century, the story of the church dates back a century earlier, when Earl Leofric of Mercia and his wife Godiva founded a Benedictine priory dedicated to Saint Mary on the site of a Saxon nunnery.

Holy Trinity Church was built of red sandstone between the 1200s and 1400s, replacing a much older chapel built on the site by the monks of Saint Mary’s Priory. The monks of administered half of the growing settlement of Coventry and built a side chapel beside the priory to serve as a place of worship for the Prior’s half of Coventry.

The church first looked like nearby Saint Michael’s. However, several major restorations have seen much of the original brickwork replaced with a paler coloured sandstone.

The spire is 72 metres (237 ft) high and was rebuilt in 1667 to replace the older, original spire that collapsed during a storm in 1665, killing a young boy.

Inside, the stained-glass windows are full of colour and artistry. The east window behind the High Altar, added in 1956 to replace the original window, blown out in World War II. The new east window by Sir Ninian Comper was paid for by couples who had been married in the church, and is known as ‘The Brides’ Window.’

The great west window above the main entrance was designed by Hugh Easton in 1955. The ‘Te Deum Window’ shows Christ in Majesty seated on a rainbow, while all around him are historical figures of the Church. The window replaced a Victorian window destroyed by bombs in 1940.

The choir stalls have 20 late 15th-century misericords or ‘mercy seats,’ made to support clergy who had to stand during long services. Some of the misericord carvings depict heraldic shields, others are carved with foliage. Two misericords show a woodwose, or wild man of the woods, a mythical figure carrying a club and accompanied by a lion; one shows a Green Man with foliage emerging from his mouth; others show a hunting scene, a griffin, and the mythological basilisk.

The pulpit, carved with quatrefoil panels and foliage, was built ca 1470 and is said to be one of the highest in England. Two damaged figures are said to represent Henry VI and Queen Margaret, who made Coventry their base during the Wars of the Roses.

The 15th-century octagonal font is painted with bright colours.

The Marler Chapel or Mercers’ Chapel was added ca 1526-1527.

An extensive restoration and a new west front were completed in 1849 by the architect Richard Charles Hussey (1806-1887). The interior was restored in 1855 by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

The doom painting above the tower arch was painted in 1430s. It was discovered in 1831, covered by a lime wash, and was then restored and varnished over by David Gee. In the years following, the varnish darkened and hid the painting from view again. Conservation and restoration work began in 1995, and the painting was revealed in 2004. I have described this doom painting in detail in a separate posting last July.

The Coventry Cross outside the church has been renovated recently.

The church is usually open for private prayer and to visitors Wednesday to Saturday, 11 am to 3 pm, and Sunday, 12:30 to 4:30.

The Revd Richard Hibbert is the Vicar of Holy Trinity, and the Revd Carolyne Powell is Associate Vicar. Sunday Services are: 9:30, informal worship; 11:15, Holy Communion; 5 pm, Choral Evensong; 7 pm, ‘Sundays at Seven.’ Midweek Services usually include Holy Communion in the Marler Chapel at 12 noon on Wednesdays.

Hugh Easton’s ‘Te Deum Window’ (1955) shows Christ in Majesty seated on a rainbow, surrounded by historical Church figures (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 5 June 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Volunteers Week.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Carol Miller, Church Engagement Manager, USPG.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (5 June 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for all who volunteer so tirelessly to keep their local environment clean, from towns to beaches to parkland. May they be refreshed and revived in their important work.

The Collect:

God our redeemer,
who called your servant Boniface
to preach the gospel among the German people
and to build up your Church in holiness:
grant that we may preserve in our hearts
that faith which he taught with his words
and sealed with his blood,
and profess it in lives dedicated to your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Boniface:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A Trinitarian symbol (centre) between the coats of arms of Bishops of Lichfield in Holy Trinity Church, Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The crossing in Holy Trinity Church, Coventry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1855 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)