The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3

Allen, Thomas
1827

St. May's Chapel.

St. May's Chapel.

On the east side of Moorfields is the metropolitan Roman Catholic chapel of London. The exterior appearance is plain, even to meanness, an effect which has not been removed by the recent compo casing to the walls, or the paltry decorations now given to the principal front.

This latter portion of the building is in three parts, viz. a deep recess in the centre, in which are two Corinthian columns in a bad taste. This recess is flanked by projections guarded by pilasters at the angles, and the whole is finished by a pediment, in the tympanum of which is an unintelligible relief in plaster of uncouth workmanship, representing two females reclining against a cross. The south and north sides have each lofty arched windows, and the elevation is finished with a cornice. The west end abuts on the priests' dwelling, and is in consequence partially concealed from observation.

Before entering into description, it will be necessary to observe a deviation little to be expected in a building belonging to a church which boasts her undeviating adherence to primitive uses. In the present edifice we see the ancient and invariable position of the altar completely reversed, it being in this chapel at the west instead of the east end of the building. The interior is made into a body and aisles, with a semicircular tribune at the altar end. On each side of the building are six semicircular arches sustained upon five lofty square pillars, and two half pillars attached to the extreme walls, supporting an elliptically arched ceiling above the body of the chapel, terminating at each extremity in a half dome, the whole being beautifully painted in vivid colours. The centre is occupied by a large pannel containing the Assumption of our Lady, and the four Evangelists, distinguished by their proper attributes, surrounded by pannels square and oblong, containing scriptural subjects; the whole being separated by belts and bands, most richly painted in imitation of mouldings in relief. The ceilings of the aisles are horizontal, and painted in pannels, the plain surfaces of which are in imitation of clouds. The sanctuary is separated from the body of the church by a grand arch resting on piers, the soffit being richly pannelled.

If any thing is objectionable in the building, it is the private seats in the piers below this arch, which give the whole a theatrical appearance. The sanctuary is elliptical, and consists of a low wall by way of plinth, sustaining two coupled and two single columns of the Corinthian order of Como marble, copied from the Choragic monument of Lysicrates, and truly beautiful specimens of the order they are, forming a splendid contrast to the poverty of the columns of the exterior. They support an highly enriched entablature, the frieze decorated with honeysuckles, and the cornice with Grecian tiles. The semi-dome, which rises from the cornice, has its soffit painted with pannels and foliage, and a splendid irradiation in the centre. Behind the beautiful screen thus formed, is seen the magnificent fresco painting of the Crucifixion, which it is greatly to be regretted has faded from the effects of damp. The altar is formed of the purest marble, and elevated on three flights of steps of the same material. The front is boldly curved in an ogee, and the ledger supported upon terminal angels; on this are six candlesticks, and the tabernacle sustaining the crucifix, and on the steps are six other massive candlesticks of a grand design. The arrangement of the altar, and the whole interior of the building, are strikingly beautiful. The altar is lighted from the roof, as in the church of St. Sulpice at Paris, a method which, by excluding windows, keeps the attention of the spectator fixed upon the magnificent scene before him. The throne for the apostolic vicar is situated on the north side of the central area of the chapel, near to the sanctuary; and the pulpit, which is affixed to a pillar nearly opposite the latter, was the gift of lord Arundel, and partakes too much of the glitter and show for which the Romish church has usually been censured, and does not correspond with the magnificent but chaste decorations of the building. Two circular fonts of white marble, beautiful and chaste in their designs, are situated near the principal entrances; and in this part of the church are seen the confessionals, with the names of the priests to which they respectively appertain, inscribed above the apertures.

The paintings of the altar and ceilings are executed by Signor Aglio, an Italian artist, for the former he received 500l. and for the latter 1,200l.; and the altar, columns, and other works in marble, by Signor Comelli of Milan.

The first stone was laid on the 5th Aug. 1817, and the chapel was consecrated on the 20th April, 1820, by the late Rev. Dr. Poynter, the vicar apostolic. The whole expense of the building and embellishments amounted to 26,000l.Britton's Edifices of London, vol. ii. p. 7. The dimensions are as follow:-- Feet. Internal lengthof nave126 of aisles98 breadth of nave38 of aisle12 total62 height of nave52 of aisles33

On the east side of is the metropolitan Roman of London. The exterior appearance is plain, even to meanness, an effect which has not been removed by the recent compo casing to the walls, or the paltry decorations now given to the principal front.

This latter portion of the building is in parts, viz. a deep recess in the centre, in which are Corinthian columns in a bad taste. This recess is flanked by projections guarded by pilasters at the angles, and the whole is finished by a pediment, in the tympanum of which is an unintelligible relief in plaster of uncouth workmanship, representing females reclining against a cross. The south and north sides have each lofty arched windows, and the elevation is finished with a cornice. The west end abuts on the priests' dwelling, and is in consequence partially concealed from observation.

Before entering into description, it will be necessary to observe a deviation little to be expected in a building belonging to a church which boasts her undeviating adherence to primitive uses. In the present edifice we see the ancient and invariable position of the altar completely reversed, it being in this chapel at the west instead of the east end of the building. The interior is made into a body and aisles, with a semicircular tribune at the altar end. On each side of the building are semicircular arches sustained upon lofty square pillars, and half pillars attached to the extreme walls, supporting an elliptically arched ceiling above the body of the chapel, terminating at each extremity in a half dome, the whole being beautifully painted in vivid colours. The centre is occupied by a large pannel containing the Assumption of our Lady, and the Evangelists, distinguished by their proper attributes, surrounded by pannels square and oblong, containing scriptural subjects; the

416

whole being separated by belts and bands, most richly painted in imitation of mouldings in relief. The ceilings of the aisles are horizontal, and painted in pannels, the plain surfaces of which are in imitation of clouds. The sanctuary is separated from the body of the church by a grand arch resting on piers, the soffit being richly pannelled.

If any thing is objectionable in the building, it is the private seats in the piers below this arch, which give the whole a theatrical appearance. The sanctuary is elliptical, and consists of a low wall by way of plinth, sustaining coupled and single columns of the Corinthian order of Como marble, copied from the Choragic monument of Lysicrates, and truly beautiful specimens of the order they are, forming a splendid contrast to the poverty of the columns of the exterior. They support an highly enriched entablature, the frieze decorated with honeysuckles, and the cornice with Grecian tiles. The semi-dome, which rises from the cornice, has its soffit painted with pannels and foliage, and a splendid irradiation in the centre. Behind the beautiful screen thus formed, is seen the magnificent fresco painting of the Crucifixion, which it is greatly to be regretted has faded from the effects of damp. The altar is formed of the purest marble, and elevated on flights of steps of the same material. The front is boldly curved in an ogee, and the ledger supported upon terminal angels; on this are candlesticks, and the tabernacle sustaining the crucifix, and on the steps are other massive candlesticks of a grand design. The arrangement of the altar, and the whole interior of the building, are strikingly beautiful. The altar is lighted from the roof, as in the church of St. Sulpice at Paris, a method which, by excluding windows, keeps the attention of the spectator fixed upon the magnificent scene before him. The throne for the apostolic vicar is situated on the north side of the central area of the chapel, near to the sanctuary; and the pulpit, which is affixed to a pillar nearly opposite the latter, was the gift of lord Arundel, and partakes too much of the glitter and show for which the Romish church has usually been censured, and does not correspond with the magnificent but chaste decorations of the building. circular fonts of white marble, beautiful and chaste in their designs, are situated near the principal entrances; and in this part of the church are seen the confessionals, with the names of the priests to which they respectively appertain, inscribed above the apertures.

The paintings of the altar and ceilings are executed by Signor Aglio, an Italian artist, for the former he received and for the latter ; and the altar, columns, and other works in marble, by Signor Comelli of Milan.

The stone was laid on the , and the chapel was consecrated on the , by the late Rev. Dr. Poynter, the vicar apostolic. The whole expense of the building and embellishments amounted to

417

The dimensions are as follow:--
  Feet.
Internal lengthof nave126
 of aisles98
 breadth of nave38
 of aisle12
 total62
 height of nave52
 of aisles33

 
 
Footnotes:

[] Britton's Edifices of London, vol. ii. p. 7.

View all images in this book
 Title Page
 Dedication
 CHAPTER I: The site, extent, buildings, population, commerce, and a view of the progressive increase of London
 CHAPTER II: List of the parishes and churches in London, with their incumbents, &c
collapseCHAPTER III: History and Topography of Aldersgate Ward
collapseCHAPTER IV: History and Topography of Aldgate Ward
collapseCHAPTER V: History and Topography of Bassishaw Ward
collapseCHAPTER VI: History and Topography of Billingsgate Ward
collapseCHAPTER VII: History and Topography of Bishopsgate Ward, Without and Within
collapseCHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of Bread-street Ward
collapseCHAPTER IX: History and Topography of Bridge Ward Within
collapseCHAPTER X: History and Topography of Broad-street Ward
collapseCHAPTER XI: History and Topography of Candlewick Ward
collapseCHAPTER XII: History and Topography of Castle Baynard Ward
collapseCHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of Cheap Ward
collapseCHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of Coleman-street Ward
collapseCHAPTER XV: History and Topography of Cordwainer's-street Ward
collapseCHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of Cornhill Ward
collapseCHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Ward Within
collapseCHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Yard Without
collapseCHAPTER XIX: History and Topography of Dowgate Yard
collapseCHAPTER XX: History and Topography of Farringdom Ward Within
collapseCHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of Farringdon Ward Without
collapseCHAPTER XXII: History and Topography of Langbourn Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXIII: History and Topography of Lime-street Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXIV: History and Topogrpahy of Portsoken Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXV: History and Topography of Queenhithe Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXVI: History and Topography of Tower Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXVII: History and Topography of Vintry Ward
collapseCHAPTER XXVIII: History and Topography of Wallbrook Ward
This object is in collection:
Edwin C. Bolles papers
Subjects
London (England)--History
Antiquities
Permanent URL
http://hdl.handle.net/10427/44306
ID: tufts:UA069.005.DO.00068
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