Saturday, July 4, 2009

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

St. Martin-in-the-Fields is an Anglican church at the northeast corner of Trafalgar Square in the City of Westminster, London. Its patron is Saint Martin of Tours.

A 13th-century church on the site was used by the monks of Westminster Abbey. This church was rebuilt by Henry VIII in 1542 to avoid plague victims from the area having to pass through his Palace of Whitehall. At this time, it was literally "in the fields" in an isolated position between the cities of Westminster and London, located to the northeast. The church was replaced with the current building, designed by James Gibbs in 1721. The design was criticized widely at the time but subsequently became extremely famous, being copied widely, particularly in the United States. The church is essentially rectangular, with a great pediment in the Classical style supported by a row of Corinthian columns. The high steeple is topped with a gilt crown.

Among other notables, furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, whose workshop was in the same street as the church, St Martin's Lane, is buried in the church. The church has a close relationship with the Royal Family, whose parish church it is, and with the Admiralty.

Iranian born artist Shirazeh Houshiary has trained, lived and worked in London since she was a teenager. This is her beautiful new window installed above the altar in 2008, celebrating light in an abstract design with strong religious, spiritual and architectural resonances. The ‘warp and weft’ design of the stainless steel framework evokes the agony of the Cross, while the lightly etched central ellipse creates an icon of contemplation. It can be seen as the light at the center of existence, the glory of God and of the light with which Christ illuminates human life; others see it as more universal, transcending cultures, describing it as an egg breaking through the fourth dimension.

St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the most famous non-cathedral churches in London, known for its regular lunchtime and evening concerts: many ensembles perform there, including the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which was co-founded by Sir Neville Marriner and John Churchill. There is a popular café in the crypt, where jazz concerts are held. All profits from this go to the work of the church. The crypt is also home to the London Brass Rubbing Centre, an art gallery and a book and gift shop.

Note: The first two volumes of The Saint John's Bible - Psalms and Prophets - are on permanent display at St Martin's, with subsequent volumes to follow. The first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned since the advent of the printing press more than 500 years ago, The Saint John's Bible was commissioned in 1998 by the Roman Catholic Benedictine monks of Saint John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is being created by a team of scribes, artists and craftspeople in a Scriptorium in Wales under the artistic direction of Donald Jackson, one of the world's foremost calligraphers and the Scribe to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Crown Office at the House of Lords. The Saint John's Bible revives an age-old calligraphic art form using calfskin vellum, goose quills, natural inks, hand-ground pigments and gold-leaf gilding. An exhibition of 25 prints from The Saint John's Bible will be on display in the St Martin's Hall from 14 June-13 September, 2009. The prints and other items inspired by this work of art are available to purchase from the Shop at St Martin's.

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