A glimmering golden church in Fitzrovia is now open multiple days a week.
We try to avoid the well-worn term 'hidden gem' nowadays, but then what else is the Fitzrovia Chapel? Nestled away in the middle of unassuming new-ish housing development, it opens up like a glimmering jewel box — and even plays enchanting music.
In London there are churches where you can see the tombs of great writers, munch croissants in the crypt, and admire Routemaster-themed stained glass windows. But none have the breathtaking quality of the pint-sized Fitzrovia Chapel, and its Italianate rib-vaulted ceiling, encrusted with many thousands of gilded mosaic tiles, lined with green onyx. This is not unlike St Mark's in Venice — and yet this is in central London, just around the corner from a Domino's pizza.
Designed in 1891 by the gothic revivalist architect, John Loughborough Pearson as the chapel for the Middlesex Hospital, the church had its first service in 1914, but it didn't get its ribbed ceiling until 1929, when it was added by John's son, Frank Loughborough Pearson. Given this stellar father-son effort, it's little wonder the development encircling the chapel is called Pearson Square. The architectural juxtaposition is jarring to say the least, although that's nothing compared to what this site looked in 2008 — when the Middlesex Hospital was demolished and the chapel stood on stilts in a rubble-strewn no man's land:
The golden mosaics themselves — inspired by the medieval designs which can be found in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region — weren't installed until the 1930s, when Maurice Richard worked his magic here. When you step inside this chapel, it's like you've walked into a cloud of aureate glitter, or perhaps Elton John's boudoir — even if you know what to expect, it knocks you for six. (We've used our own photos here — which don't do the place justice — although for a sublime panorama of the ceiling, click here.)
The lavishness isn't all in the mosaics; the chapel also features 17 different kinds of marble, a font carved from a solid block of verd antique, a lectern and piscina carved from alabaster, and various stained glass windows dedicated to saints and chapel donors. Pipe in some atmospheric music (as they're wont to do), and you've got yourself quite the ethereal experience — especially if you happen to get the place to yourself.
Although no one particularly famous is buried at the chapel, it is where the writer Rudyard Kipling lay in state in 1936, before his funeral at Westminster Abbey. The Fitzrovia Chapel's architect John Loughborough Pearson is also buried at Westminster Abbey — fitting, as he designed parts of the adjacent St Margaret's church.
Until recently, the Fitzrovia Chapel usually only opened on Wednesdays, but now its visitor hours have expanded to cover Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (11am to 6pm) — plus one Sunday a month (12pm to 5pm). The chapel also hosts a number of workshops and exhibitions. It's free to enter, although donations are always welcome.
If you're blown away by this kind of dazzling ecclesiastical interior, you'll also enjoy the Chapel of St Christopher, part of Great Ormond Street Hospital in Bloomsbury (and open daily), which Oscar Wilde described as "the most delightful private chapel in London." Of course, Wilde didn't live to see to see the splendour of the Fitzrovia Chapel.
Fitzrovia Chapel, open most Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays (11am-6pm) and one Sunday a month (12pm-5pm), free