Skip to content

Views Of Christ Church, Spitalfields

February 3, 2016
by the gentle author

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 moment 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 through the window of a sushi bar, from an orange grove and rising from the ruins of a demolition site.

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 the former 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 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

From the ruins of the Fruit & Wool Exchange

You might also like to read about

Contemplating Christ Church

Midwinter Light at Christ Church

A View of Christ Church

The Secrets of Christ Church

Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Churches

14 Responses leave one →
  1. February 3, 2016

    Maybe they should have written “commit no nuisance” on the Fruit and Wool Exchange instead of the church.

  2. Evelyn permalink
    February 3, 2016

    This now gives me an in-depth feel for your neighborhood. I’ve never been to the United Kingdom, and this is very helpful to me, GA. Thanks!

    What an astoundingly beautiful edifice this church is! I am so glad to know about it. ~ Evelyn

    (on Twitter)

  3. February 3, 2016

    Beautiful photos. I am thankful that Boris did not get a chance to replace it with a facade covering more architectural sins built to make the rich even richer. Valerie

  4. February 3, 2016

    I’ll make it a point of honour to look out for it as I go
    thanks for sparking yet another nice occupation & diversion!

  5. Georgina Briody permalink
    February 3, 2016

    I am very fond of this church, especially as my Huguenot great, great, great, great grandmother was buried here. As I approach from Liverpool Street Station, I can see it in the distance dominating the area, I just love it.

  6. February 3, 2016

    lovely post!

  7. February 3, 2016

    Reminds me of the Eiffel Tower spied over rooftops in the opening credits of Les Quatre Cents Coups

  8. Barbara Rondeau permalink
    February 3, 2016

    Great views!

  9. Neville Turner permalink
    February 3, 2016

    Christ Church Spitalfields is the citadel of Spitalfields and most always a presence and like you say seems to vanish from the minds eye despite it’s huge size dominating the skyline.The church is now in very good condition and put to good use,this has not always been the situation some very desperate scenes when the adjoining grass area was a draw for the homeless and less fortunate citizens seeking a nights sleep and a sence of community to help them through the night,the crypt was used as a shelter and a youth club organised by the ever resoucefull Micky Davis. Many of these youths later were married in Christ Church, my eldest brother Terry married there many of us have pictures in our minds eye of Christ Church like your excellent photo’s keep up the good work

  10. Sharon permalink
    February 3, 2016

    It’s like a “where’s Waldo” game!

  11. Greg Tingey permalink
    February 4, 2016

    As a listed building, it’s on the Historic England/RPS catalogue, of course.
    I suspect my Huguenot ancestors went there, once upon a day.

  12. Margaret Grover permalink
    February 5, 2016

    I was lucky enough to visit Christ Church and its surrounds in 2014 with my lovely Huguenot friend Gina and walk with her from Liverpool Station. What a wonderful day of exploration and history . We must keep it sacred for future generations in every way we can.

  13. Jane clouston. New zealand permalink
    February 26, 2017

    Wonderful…I love this church and I get nostalgic when it pops up in to or movies.
    Thanks for the memories

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS