Hawksmoor's London Churches: Architecture and Theology

Article excerpt

Hawksmoor's London Churches: Architecture and Theology. By Pierre de la Ruffiniere du Prey. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000. xix + 179 pp. $37.50 (cloth); $25.00 (paper).

Between 1712 and 1731 Nicholas Hawksmoor, the great student of Sir Christopher Wren, created six Anglican churches in London that define the word "eclectic." Taking elements from classical temples, from fanciful reconstructions of Solomon's temple, and from early Christian edifices as they were thought to have looked, Hawksmoor designed six neo-Byzantine buildings of pure form and abstraction. His six churches are unique in the world, more subtle than "wedding cakes" such as St. Bride's, Fleet Street or St. Michael's, Charleston, and strangely more impressive even than the great St. Martin-in-the-Fields or St. Paul's, Fulton Street in New York.

But there's more! Hawksmoor sought an "early Christian" purity and simplicity that united "high church" interests and "low church" principles for the sake of reaching the nation. This aspiration of the baroque genius-- architect is documented by Pierre du Prey in his splendid book, which is also precisely and comprehensively illustrated.

Chapter one documents the architectural scholarship of Hawksmoor, which pulled motifs from Baalbec in Lebanon to Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, sites he could never visit in person and which were known in England only from exotic and partial reports. There was a certain "high church," post-- Laudian interest in such "early church" architecture to which Hawksmoor and his contemporaries were exposed. Chapter two sets out the antiquarian interest of several prolific clergy, mostly "high church," but spurred also by Archbishop Thomas Tenison, a "low church" hero of the Glorious Revolution, to try to discover the essence of Christian worship for the sake of reform in the now. …