A Window on the Church

by Gerry Lynch last modified 23 Nov, 2015 10:38 AM

Salisbury church completes new entrance allowing a view from a busy street into stunning medieval interior

“We were organising a concert the night the doors were first in use when someone walked in for a look and started chatting”, says Fi Green, a worshipper at the medieval gem that is St Thomas’ Church in Salisbury’s city centre, “The brightly lit sanctuary and doom painting seen through the doors, visible from the street for the very first time that evening, had caught his eye. He said he’d lived in the city all his life but never been into the Church before.” 

It seems to have become fashionable to minimise the importance of church building improvements, especially to large historic churches with significant maintenance costs and intrusive heritage supervision. A big church improvement scheme can provoke muttered comments that the money would have been better spent on social justice projects or evangelism. But might good building projects be evangelistic in their own right? 

St Thomas’ Rector, Canon David Linaker, certainly thinks so. Having just seen to fruition the project of replacing the previous Edwardian interior doors at the church, all dark and heavy wood, with a modern glass vestibule, he says he was inspired by another excellent building project at another big Salisbury city centre church. 

“When St Paul’s, half a mile up Fisherton Street from us, first produced plans for a new entrance foyer with big glass picture windows, I was quite sceptical”, David says, “When the project was complete, however, I was stunned by the ‘shop window’ for the church it provided on one of the busiest roundabouts in Wiltshire. It was such a good advertisement for both the reality of a thriving, lively, St Paul’s and a thriving Christian church generally. 

“At about the same time, Côte Brasserie opened up on St Thomas’ Square, bringing evening footfall into what is a pedestrianised street for the first time, and turning it from somewhere that could be gloomy and forbidding after dark into being quite happening. 

“The final part of a confluence of events was our own thinking about how to turn our beautiful and genuinely historic 15th Century exterior doors from being shut into being a shop window for St Thomas’.” 

Initial plans were quite limited, to replace the existing wooden porch, installed in 1905, with something that would allow some lovely medieval blind arcading on the inside of the west wall to be seen properly for the first time in over a century. As the plans developed, it became clear that they had the potential to be much more significant. 

St Thomas 2.JPGSt Thomas’ is blessed with a late 15th Century ‘Doom painting’, a remarkably vivid imagination of the Last Judgement considered the finest surviving example in England. It is now visible from the street, especially after winter sunsets when it is brightly lit. So too are church services, and a steady stream of curious people, not regular churchgoers, have been seen popping in for a look on Sundays. 

St Thomas’ has further redevelopment plans which it is currently raising funds for. These include replacing the existing seating with stackable and removable pews, and a new nave altar and font to designs by Matthew Burt from Hindon. The current aim is to complete the improvements by 2020. 

“I see the church building as our biggest asset for mission”, concludes David, “A large building, dating in part to the 13th Century is also, of course, a potentially massive cost, but if it is worked right, it can generate significant amounts of money for its own maintenance.”

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