Inevitably multi-everything London has got a fab collection of places for people to worship. And let's face it: we could all do with a bit of faith after the last week. Here's our round-up of some of the fabbest. Agree with our selection? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments.
The Shri Swaminaryan Mandir: If all places of worship are equal (and our list really is in no particular order), this temple in Neasden is everso slightly more equal than the others. It really is one of the most magnificent buildings in London, exquisite from the outside, breathtaking inside, and so filled with love and openness as to be an inspiration. Admission is free, and visitors are very very welcome, although you should check out the visiting times before you set off. Don't miss the highly informative exhibition on Hinduism. And shame on us..but we really heart the shop there too.
Chapel of St. John the Evangelist at the Tower of London: This is worth a mention as it is perhaps one of the oldest intact places of worship in London. It was used as the private chapel of those living or staying in the White Tower. It is simple, and really quite small, but imbued with soulful, somewhat eerie spirituality and a penetrating sense of calm. This is possibly because of the number of ill-fated nobles (including Lady Jane Grey) who prayed fervently within its walls.
Stoke Newington Mosque: is one of London's most approachable mosques. It is welcoming, and lived in, and loved. In an age when Islam is oft times so very misunderstood, this building is kind of reaching out and inviting people to engage with the community therein. It has a shop, for starters, and a restaurant. Even its jolly blue and white exterior and shiny minarets are easy on the eye.
The Bevis Marks Synagogue: This is the oldest custom-built synagogue in the country, and its walls echo with the history of its founders. It was opened in 1701, having been built by Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had migrated from their haven in Amsterdam. The name is derived from the street where the building is situated, in case you were curious. It was restored in the 90s having been damaged by IRA bombs in the City, and is now open to visitors on most days of the week. It too has a restaurant attached: you can find out more here.
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster: is big. Very very big. If you are cruising through Westminster it is hard to miss. The design was actually chosen in a competition and the building was completed in 1912. And yes, it achieves its mission to to be a "non intimidating but welcoming building so that people who had no connections with the Christian church would feel comfortable and able to enter them": it is indeed a cheery looking structure. The best description of it is from Betjemen:
"The dome of Central Hall is a splendid foil to the towers of Westminster and the pinnacles of the Houses of Parliament".
St. Anne's Limehouse: ah, Hawksmoor. His imprint on the religious architecture of London cannot be over-estimated. The soaring spires and the impressive twiddly bits and the sheer scale of his structures is impressive. If creepy. Of his six London churches, we rate this one because it used to give us nightmares when we were small. And it's got a pyramid-shaped folly (actually a tomb) in the churchyard. It also deserves respect as (like many of London's churches) it is a survivor: it was restored after a fire in the 19th century and again after WWII bomb-damage in the 20th century. There are some who would say that you're not really a Londoner until you've read the Ackroyd version of Hawksmoor's life...but be warned - it's not for the easily spooked.
Brick Lane Jamme Masjid: is fab not for its prettiness or architectural merit, but because its history encapsulates the rich mix that is London. Its original designation (it was built in 1743) was as a Protestant chapel. In 1809 it was taken over by the Wesleyans, only to become a Methodist Chapel in 1819. Later on in the same century it got to be a synagogue, and then after a period of disuse, it finally realised its current calling as a mosque. Go on - admit it: that's one impresssive pedigree. It is of course not unique: London has so many religious buildings which started holy life as one thing only to be reconsecrated as something else....
St. Pancras Old Church: is what it says it is: OLD. It goes back to 314 AD. or thereabouts. That's like, nearly as long as Christianity has been harboured on these shores. And it has a correspondingly colourful history, with glamour added by its associations with Mary Wollstonecraft, the Shelleys, Thomas Hardy and Sir John Soane. It is nowadays one of the funkier C of E venues in London, hosting a range of events and even running a blog of sorts. There is an excellent set of photos of the place here.
St. Stephen Walbrook: Built near-as-damnit on the site of the Temple of Mithras, a Wren church, dome based on his original design for St Paul's, Henry Moore altar, original home of the Samaritans and has a plaque in it commemorating a doctor during the 1665 plague who, rather than flee, stayed and treated his patients until he too succumbed. How that for packing the history and the drama in? You can read the full history on the church's rather excellent website.
St. Pauls Hmm. Ok. So not really a surprise. Hardly a hidden gem. Any tourist could give you the low down therein. But it is quite special, no? And it does give us the chance to draw attention once again to this rather excellent spherical photograph of the place.
Keep the faith, London people. And let us know what we've missed in the comments below.