The Architecture of St Faith's
Eric Salisbury

When I first considered writing an article about the architecture of St Faith’s I expected that a couple of pages would suffice. However, as I started to describe the building it became clear that to fully understand and appreciate it some background information explaining features we take for granted would be necessary.

St Faith’s church was founded by Douglas Horsfall and designed by the architectural practice of Grayson and Ould; it was consecrated in April 1900. It is in the Gothic style with a cruciform plan facing east, and conforms to the accepted form of church layout of the 19th century.

It is built in red pressed Accrington brick with Runcom sandstone dressings, and has a slated roof. The building is impressive in its size, which the brick work accentuates, and in its confident use of materials. It is finished off with some pleasing detailing, evident in the decorative carved stone work over the porches, at the apex of the main roof and, of course, the tracery of the windows. Flying buttresses take the thrust of the roof and project over the slated roofs of the side aisles. The composition formed by the south transept, the polygonal bell tower and the vestry and organ loft is particularly good but unfortunately is now partly obscured by the vicarage and is ill served by the car park. The foundation stone, located near the north porch, was laid in 1898 by the founder’s son Robert Elcum Horsfall, who, as a captain in the Liverpool Regiment, was later killed in the Great War in 1917 and is commemorated by the chance! screen. He was 27 when he died as a result of a collapsing parapet causing him to be impaled on a broken bayonet.

The interior reflects the exterior in its use of brick and stone, and has a fine hammerbeam roof over the nave and a barrel vault over the chancel. Its vastness, austerity and dim atmosphere is what immediately strikes the visitor; all this only serving, as intended, to contrast with the splendour of the high altar and the reredos. It is a building that initially conceals its treasures, which only delight all the more on their discovery and familiarity with time.

The broad nave is served by a central aisle and two narrow passage aisles lit by stained glass memorial windows and a few spare plain ones. Additional light to the nave is provided by plain clerestory windows and the large plain west window.

On entering the church one sees the octagonal marble font, raised on four marble legs and protected by a carved wooden lid. Fonts were made of stone to prevent them being moved elsewhere and the use of four legs dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. Fonts were originally covered to prevent the theft of consecrated water for its supposed magical properties. The octagonal shape symbolised the number eight, the sign for a new beginning. The font is at the west end: the entrance to the ‘sea of life’, of the nave (from ‘navis’, the Latin for ship), as opposed to the potentially regenerated spirit at the east end.

At the front of the pews is the fine carved sandstone pulpit. It bears a marvellous frieze of a crown symbolizing Christ enthroned and in the company of cherubim with wings on their heads; below the frieze and flanking the crown are the images of St Peter, with the inverted cross on which he died, and St Paul, with the sword, referring both to his martyrdom and his militant work in spreading the gospel, and holding a book indicating the importance of the message. In the iconography of the church they stand next to the evangelists as establishers of the church, and the imagery here is a common representation.

The north transept forms the Chapel of the Cross and is dominated by the Great Crucifix; it contains a simple altar table and also the altar frontal chest.The crucifix was bought in Italy in 1928 in Douglas Horsfall and is a German 19th century work by Stuflesser; the figure is painted plaster on wood. The chapel displays four of the fourteen Stations of the Cross, designed and embroidered at the Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral; like the new St Faith’s banner they were designed by Sister Anthony at The Studio.

The south transept forms the Lady Chapel, with its altar and tabernacle containing the reserved sacrament and the votive light. It also contains the ‘Rabbit Madonna’ by the sculptress Mother Mirabel of Wantage (can you spot its unusual feature?), the book of remembrance, scroll of honour and place for private confession, together with the recently-added ‘arbour niche’ memorial flower shelf and the fine votive candle stand.

The nave altar dates from the late 1960s and fills the crossing; its location and character are a result of the influence of the liturgical movement, with its revaluation of the corporate nature of worship. The kneelers are removed from time to time for concerts and for certain services. The chancel screen was installed in 1921 and divides the nave from the chancel and, being open in design, does not impede the congregation's view of the High Altar. Pevsner did not consider it an improvement! The iron chancel gates are always open.

In the chancel, the choir stalls include seats for clergy and readers, backed by a wrought-iron screen to the north and clear glazing to the south choir aisles. The wall of the north choir aisle contains the ashes of four persons held in high esteem at Saint Faith’s and a small statue by Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley.

The High Altar itself is of wood, raised on steps which commence at the end of the choir stalls and continue behind the brass communion rail. The use of decorative frontals and priests’ vestments follow the Christian calendar. The beautiful reredos (described more fully elsewhere) by Salviati of Venice, who also decorated the Albert Memorial, with its central panel of the Crucifixion, ends the journey through the faith which started at the font.

The seven lamps suspended before the altar have their origin in the words of the Apocalypse, ‘And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the Throne which were the Seven Spirits of God’. In the sanctuary to the south side of the altar is the sedilia, the three seats for priest, deacon and subdeacon; it is made of wood with a canopy and set into the wall. Next to it is the aumbry, the recessed stone shelf reserved for the precious vessels of the Eucharist.

Those parts of the church not normally seen by the congregation include the Sacristy, or priest’s vestry, where the clergy prepare for the services, and the Choir Vestry, which is also where the flower-arrangers and cleaners have their headquarters. Up the stairs to the Organ Loft which, apart from the quite narrow organist’s ‘eyrie’, is a vast cavern behind the organ pipes containing the bellows and also tempting storage space.

Beneath the church is the boiler room, known to a few, particularly when flooding; but with the new heating system, slipping into history. The plain wooden double doors outside the vestry conceal the garden store, again familiar to few — too few, perhaps?

And finally next to that, now unfortunately sealed off because of vandalism, is the church’s strangest feature. What flash of vision led Douglas Horsfall to stipulate that a walk-in men’s urinal be included, open to the skies, open to all? Obviously a practical man, and with a twinkle in his eye, he brought Clochemerle to S. Faith’s and provided great relief to many when they needed it most.

It may be useful to consider the origin of the layout of our Church. Although we may take it for granted, it conforms to the requirements of the ‘High Church’ Tractarian Movement dating from the 1840s. Earlier church design had focussed attention on the preacher and the sermon, leading to the high boxed pews sometime being placed at angles facing the elevated, ornate pulpit, which was often ‘three-decker’ to contain rector, curate and clerk. Anglicanism had become the upper-class religion and special prominence was given to family pews of local gentry. The displaying of the Royal Arms in church became compulsory in 1660. And, rather than people stealing consecrated water from fonts, they now sometimes used them for holding their hats!

It was against this secular background that the catholic Tractarians, with their views on the sacrificial nature of the eucharist, rebelled and tried to recall the earlier, more spiritual, roots of the mediaeval Church, symbolically interpreting features that had had practical origins. They believed in a specifically Christian style of architecture: it was 14th Century Gothic and with a plan to match.

Accordingly to the Tractarians the two essential parts of the church were chancel and nave. The spacious chancel had to be one third the length of the nave, and divided into choir and sacrarium at the east end. The nave, chancel and sanctuary symbolized the Blessed Trinity; or the nave was the Church Militant and the chancel the Church Triumphant, with the barrier of the chancel arch standing for the faithful death of the righteous soul. The chancel had to be set above the nave; the altar raised above the chancel to dominate the whole church. High pews were out - seating was to be open, all facing east and the High Altar. The position of the font by the door, symbolizing baptism as the way into membership of the Body of Christ, was stipulated, as was the position of the lectern in the nave.

The original use of the chancel was for clergy taking the office; the introduction of a surpliced choir evolved in the 1840s. The actual presence of a choir originated at this time in Cathedral sung services. In non-Tractarian churches music was sometimes provided by assorted musicians and singers from galleries but it was considered inappropriate for them to be raised above everyone else and could lead to the congregation facing away from the altar.

The idea that the altar alone should be the focus of devotion for any service is largely Victorian. The tiled floor, carved reredos, brass ornaments, flowers, were means to this end. The brickwork with stone dressings, high open roof, high windows, provide an austere background to place emphasis on the resplendent altar. One can see how most churches of this period conform to this rigid style. The Gothic style, superseded by Classicism in Wren’s time, became the norm and is still reflected in church and religious design, for example in the use of Gothic lettering, pointed windows and arches.

Looking now at Saint Faith’s it is clear how closely it follows these precepts. It has all the features called for, and high on the north wall of the chancel is the stone of dedication bearing the words: ‘This Church of Saint Faith is dedicated to the glory of God as a thankoffering for the revival of Catholic Faith and Doctrine in the Church of England during the sixty years reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.’

The history of church architecture is both fascinating and complex and naturally is interwoven with patterns of liturgy and worship throughout the ages. This is particularly evident when visiting old churches which have been altered and extended to suit the changes in people’s thinking. Even in the comparatively short life of Saint Faith’s we have seen the major innovation of the Nave Altar. We have also seen the installation of steel grilles and gates to the porches, and the fitting of protective sheeting over many of the windows.All these features reflect the changing liturgical and social scene. Who knows what the next hundred years will bring?

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