St. Martins Anew
by Brian Libby
Among all the great places of worship in London — St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Southwark Cathedral, Temple Church — one of the best known is St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It is situated on the edge of Trafalgar Square near the National Gallery of Art and Charing Cross Road.
There has been a church here since the 13th century, though the present structure, designed by James Gibbs, is more recent, built in 1726. After nearly 300 years of service, it is suffering from disrepair and is about to undergo a sensitive and carefully negotiated restoration and addition.
Gibbs's design was part of a building boom in the decades following London's great fire of 1666. Many of the churches of the day were designed by the great Christopher Wren. While St. Martin's is dwarfed in size by St. Paul's, Wren's best-known masterpiece, Gibbs's offering is nonetheless exceptional, with a classical temple form and soaring spire that have since been imitated throughout North America and the world.
Originally, St. Martins was literally in a field, in the hamlet of Charing, between the medieval cities of London and Westminster. King Charles II was baptized in St. Martin's, and Thomas Cromwell's daughter was married there. King George I was St. Martin's first churchwarden, the only monarch ever to hold such a post. Sir Isaac Newton was one of many notable longtime parishioners. >>>
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The church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, designed in the 18th century by James Gibbs.
Photo: Brian Libby
Architect's sketch of the old church with a future courtyard entrance to below-grade functions.
Image: Eric Parry
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