‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew’. [ Abraham Lincoln, 1862 ]
For over a week I spent time with homeless people in Trafalgar Square and Croydon, London. Before I couldn’t see them, now every time I cross those streets I recognise them, greet them, look at myself in them. We smiled, told our stories, looked at each other and talked about the dignity lost in the bitter hours spent staring at Nelson’s column and thinking on the whys of life.
Christopher Wren’s church in Piccadilly, London [St James’s Church] has an unusual relationship with spirituality. The darkness of the whole interior does not give prominence to the altar but rather hides it; a Baroque stained glass window offers a series of symbolic representations of Jesus Christ, despite that the religious function of the building appears blurred. A Palladian serliana is repeated on the second floor of the double height aisles, and seems to embrace gently the entire room by enclosing it on three sides and slightly pushing it towards the altar.
The interior of the building reminds of the waiting room of an old railway station and the view of a clock – placed just below the dark and plump gold-stained organ opposite the altar – emphasise the idea of time; mortal rather than eternal. The nave and one of the aisles are lit by low lamps arranged symmetrically on a side of the wooden benches, tending towards the nave so as to illuminate the path that leads to a tiny cross leaning against the altar. The other aisle is darker as no lamps lit the way, and from the mysterious and enigmatic murk comes a repeated sound: the heavy breath of weary and somnolent men. Someone talks in his sleep, another complains grumpily; the church has become a refuge for those without a bed, those who – struggling to get up from the little soft wooden benches – have decided to share their house with the Lord, preferring that to the street.
Perhaps Wren had wanted his church to be preserved as a precious and untouchable jewel; I wonder if that is really the aim of Architecture and whether spirituality is a value to be searched in aesthetics.