Saturday, 28 March 2015

The White Church, Blackpool (UK)

The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes
known in Blackpool as The White Church
because of its portland stone exterior
The former shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes in Blackpool was built between 1955 and 1957 to a design by the Catholic architect Francis Xavier Verlarde. During World War II, the Bishop of Lancaster, Thomas E. Flynn, sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to protect the Diocese from war damage. At the end of the war the Diocese had been relatively undamaged, and the bishop conceived the idea of building a shrine to Our of Lourdes in thanksgiving. 

The churches designed by the architect Verlarde were decidedly modern in appearance. He designed relatively simple churches in a style derived from the Romanesque churches of rural France but in a greatly simplified, even severe form. It would not be correct to describe his work at art deco, but nevertheless they blend with the streamlined architecture of that period. The Blackpool shrine was built towards the end of Verlarde's life.

The Shrine seen from the south,
shewing the tracery windows of the aisles.
Wikipedia tells us that shrine-church of our Lady of Lourdes is constructed in brick and concrete clad with Portland stone.  The church is roofed in copper sheets and has copper cladding to the fl├Ęche or spirelet. The nave is flanked by box-like aisles in which rectangular panels of cast concrete glazing are filled with geometric patterns, their pink and pale blue glass giving good light to the interior. At the west end there is single-bay narthex, and at the east end is an apse forming the sanctuary, and projecting vestries. 

The exterior of the church is decorated in a most striking manner with marvellous stone carvings by David John. In the west front over the fine timber double doors is a bas-relief of the Crucified Christ surrounded by the angels. God the Father is depicted above the Cross and the Blessed Virgin at its foot.  

David John's marvellous
carving of the Crucifixion.
David John also designed the pinnacles at the corners of the building; these depict Our Lady of Lourdes appearing to Saint Bernadette, Christ appearing to Saint Margaret Mary, Saint Thomas of Canterbury, and Saint Edward the Confessor. 

At the entrance to the building are York stone steps with splayed flanking walls. The interior arcades columns are clad in gold mosaic. The ceiling is coloured blue, red and gold, with deep coffering around the light fittings and the floor of the body of the shrine is tiled. The sanctuary is raised and approached on marble steps through a round arch; its floor is travertine with mosaic panels. The altar rails are bronze with an Art Deco design. The altar reredos was carved by David John.

Unhappily, the shrine was deconsecrated in 1993, and passed into the ownership of the Historic Chapels Trust (a secular charity), in 2000 in a poor state and without an endowment. 

Several recent photographs of the exterior of the church may be found here.

Carved statue as a pinnacle of the northern aisle
in juxtaposition to the spirelet on the nave roof.

An imaginative composition.
Note the clean - almost severe - lines of the apse.

Another view, from the southwest.
The box-like sacristy and porch (shewn in the right corner of the photograph)
which abut the southern aisle and the apse
are part of the original design but greatly detract from the building.

The now derelict interior of the Shrine Church is partially shewn in this photograph.
A free-standing altar with carved antependium by David John
is part of the original sanctuary furnishings.
The austere and oddly-shaped reredos is a great disappointment.