“Down the nave to pace in motion slow”. The space and beholder in nineteenth-century sacred architecture and St Mary’s church, Studley Royal


Monday 22 May 2017, 4.30PM

Speaker(s): Professor Wojciech Balus


St Mary’s Church at Studley Royal was built 1870-1878 by William Burges and dedicated to the memory of Fredrick Vyner who was killed in Greece in April 1870. The architect, while raising a private church, located on the estate of Lord Ripon, that did not have the function of a parish, with practically unlimited financial means, was free to create its architecture and decoration. He not only made plans of the building but also designed the floor mosaic in the chancel. Burges was also responsible for the iconographic programme of the entire decoration and its style, as well as for the choice of artists who executed sculptures, wall paintings and stained glass. As a result, what we have at Studley Royal is a rare example of a construction whose architect was not bound by any external circumstances or limitations of budget, and his erudition in the domains of sacred art, architectural symbolism and religious iconography allowed him to execute a singular work of the highest artistic merit, featuring a complex iconographic programme; an exemplary work that embodied to the full the essence of a church building as it was understood in the nineteenth century.

The present paper gives a more accurate explanation of the exemplary character of the Studley Royal church. First, this exceptional feature results from the fact that the building conforms to all standards introduced by The Ecclesiological Movement and Directorium Anglicanum. Second, it has a coherent decoration, designed together with architecture, that emphasises the spatial and functional divisions of the interior and articulates their symbolic meaning more precisely. And finally, the building’s structure and the arrangement of its decoration let us see in St Mary’s church a Christian’s way of life and the history of salvation. There are many churches built in the Victorian era that meet the standards set by the Ecclesiologists, but it is only this exceptional and harmonious unity, compliant with the Rubricks of the High Church – of the iconography and symbolism conveyed by the church’s architecture, sculpture, wall paintings, stained glass and floor tiles, closely related to the “Christian’s way of life” – that makes the Studley Royal church a building that fully realises the principles of sacred architecture of the historicism period.


Location: Bowland Auditorium, BS/005