St. Mary’s Church – Our Visit to the Historic Parish of Islington, London

This post is originally posted on 7 May 2014 in our old blog.

It was such a delight meeting Simon, the vicar of St. Mary’s Church, who is both passionate in serving the community and interested in the transformation of his community. During our visit, we not only learned valuable insights on St Mary’s history, but also had an inspirational discussion over London’s ever changing urban scenery. We particular enjoyed observing London’s skyline from the top of St. Mary’s church tower.

Prior to St. Mary’s Church establishment in the 1754, a Norman church stood the ground since the 12th century. After the replacement was built, the church continued to serve as the centre of the parish. Unfortunately, the church was bombed on the third night of the Blitz; only the church tower and portico survived the attack.

By studying London’s skyline, we can learn about its past, present, and often times, predict its future. Just like when we compared the following past and present views towards the City from the Church Tower, we saw both similarities and differences in the two sceneries. The old path connecting the city and the monumental St. Paul remind us of the past while the compact residential blocks and the skyline in the distant reflect London’s present metropolitan state. Of course, the futuristic-looking high-rise buildings could also be an indicator of the future.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside St. Mary’s Church!

The crypt is bright and divided into many rooms. The church builder’s tomb and an old Norman church stone were also hidden here.

The large steel windows allow plenty of natural light to enter the nave and provide a visual connection to the green garden. The combination of traditional church elements (i.e. Warm wooden furniture, grand pillars and interior) and modern structures (i.e. Steel framed windows, coffer ceiling and plain walls) creates a distinct characteristic of the interior. It reminds us of the past in the present.

The first room we reached after climbing the narrow wooden spiral stairs hidden under a secret tiny door was an angular-shaped room used for bell ringing. We’ve always wondered about what’s inside of this window and would never imagine a warm and cozy space like this from its exterior.

There are many small openings along the dark spiral stairs. Behind these holes is the enclosed bell ringing space and the English bell mechanism. Do you know that in order for the tower structure to sustain the bell ringing movement the mortar is specially made to include horse hair to increase the structural flexibility?!

Hampstead Heath, Alexander Palace, Upper Street, The Gherkin, The Shard, St Paul’s, London Eye, and BT Tower are all in our view! It’s amazing to see the city from a familiar point high above. As for the Gaudi-like steeple, Simon mentioned that the church’s design was actually influenced by St. Martin’s-in-the-fields and Bow Church. Do you see the similarities?

Stood on the hilltop of Angel’s busy Upper Street, St. Mary’s Church is surrounded by aged trees and seasonal flowers. This parish building is gracefully beautiful alongside the busy urban street. More importantly, its presence tells a story. Like its view of the skyline, the building itself speaks about Angel’s past, presence, and future to whom willing to listen.

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