A View of Christ Church Spitalfields
This church is so big that I can hardly see it. Omnipresent and looming over my existence – as I go about my daily business in the surrounding streets – Nicholas Hawksmoor’s towering masterpiece of English baroque, Christ Church, Spitalfields, has become so deeply integrated into my perception that I do not see it anymore. Yet I can never forget it either, because it continually interposes upon my conscious by surprise, appearing on the skyline in places where I am not expecting it.
Equally, I can never get accustomed to the size of it, and it never ceases to startle me when I turn the corner from Bishopsgate into Brushfield St and spy it there across Commercial St – always bigger than I expect, bigger than I remember it. The church’s gargantuan scale makes it appear it closer than it is and – even though my mind’s eye diminishes it – the reality of it always surpasses my expectation.
In this sense, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s masterpiece still fulfils its original function superlatively, which was to be an monumental marker pointing heavenwards and inducing awe among all those who dwell in its shadow. Constructed between 1714 and 1729 – by Act of Parliament – as one of an intended fifty new churches to serve London’s new communities, at a time when the population of Spitalfields was dominated by Huguenot immigrants, Christ Church’s superhuman scale embodied a majestic flourish of power.
Three centuries later this effect is undiminished, though now the nature of its presence is less bombastic and more elusive. Sometimes, especially at night, I look up at the great cliff face of it stretching up into the dark sky and I feel like an ant, but when I walk out from the portico and the vista of Brushfield St opens to me ahead, I experience a mood of elevation as if the world were a spectacle for my sole disposal. Mostly though, it is through the punctuations in my consciousness that I know it, like the finger of God poking into a painting in an illuminated manuscript. According to my own mood and the meteorological conditions, it conjures different meanings – whether berating me, instructing me, reminding me, teasing me or beckoning me – although the precise nature of the signal remains ever ambiguous, beyond the imperative to lift up my eyes to the sky.
Taking a stroll around the territory, I set out to photograph Christ Church from different places and record its ubiquitous nature in Spitalfields. Upon my circular walk, which I undertook clockwise, travelling south then west then north then east and south again, my path traced each of the contrasted social environments that exist within the bounds of this small parish. In turn, these locations proposed different relationships with my subject which I photographed rising over dumpsters, through the window of a sushi bar and even from an orange grove.
Once upon a time the spire of Christ Church had no competition – existing as the sole pinnacle – yet although it rises now to face its much taller neighbours in the City, it holds its own as undaunted and heroic as David facing Goliath. So this is how I choose to interpret this extraordinary building which is so big that I cannot see it anymore, as the manifestation of an indomitable spirit. A sentinel to inspire me in my own equivocal day-to-day existence.
From Bangla Town Cash & Carry.
From Bangla City Continental Supermarket, Brick Lane.
From the Seven Stars.
From an orange grove in Flower & Dean St.
From Petticoat Lane in the City of London.
From Thrawl St.
From Bell Lane.
From Whites Row.
From Bishops Sq.
From Itsu Sushi, Broadgate.
From Shoreditch High St.
From Quaker St.
From the Truman Brewery.
From Corbet Place.
From Hanbury St.
From Fournier St.
Please get in touch if you have a remarkable view of Christ Church from your window or roof, whether near or far, so that I may take a second set of pictures.
You might also like to read about
or take a look at these views of Christ Church
or visit Nicolas Hawksmoor, Architect of the Imagination at the Royal Academy.