London: St Magnus the Martyr

St Magnus the Martyr is a bit of an oddity that seems to succeed largely because in a place like London there’s room for everyone. It’s on a terrible site surrounded by tall buildings and a very busy road; it espouses a brand of ‘High Anglicanism’ that’s ‘higher’ even than the Catholicism it claims to follow, and it pushes a line against women priests and a whole lot more ‘modernising’ that’s alien to much of what the Church of England thinks these days. But that’s the good old CofE for you, particularly in London – all kinds of strange beasts find a home in this enormous and varied family. And wherever it is doctrinally, the church presumably exercises a faithful ministry to its community.

The placement of its windows suggests the church has always needed protection from the road, but the architectural achievement overall is glorious. And on top of this it has a ring of 12 lovely bells. So what with building preservationists, rampant High Anglicans, and the love of bellringers, St Magnus is not going to be closing any time soon.

The exterior first, with round windows placed high to avoid street noise. There’s also a clerestory in the roof to allow more light in, though it’s not easy to see from outside.

On the inside the effect of the clerestory is more obvious: there’s a lot more light in the church than you might expect. The Wren architecture is beautiful, and the richness of the fittings is stunning. This is undoubtedly a Protestant preaching box of a church, albeit one fitted out with the wealth of the Restoration – so if you want to turn it catholic you may have a bit of a struggle…

And here are some of the more obviously catholic elements. Personally I read ‘Forward in Faith’ as code for ‘back to the Middle Ages’: clearly one of the Welsh clergy disagrees with me, but that doesn’t entirely surprise me.

And lastly a memorial to Miles Coverdale, the man who made the first translation into English of the Bible. Evangelical Protestants who value the Bible above all else must find it rather odd, or perhaps see it as a strange kind of justice, that he ends up in St Magnus the Martyr.