by KENNETH ALLAN
ONE GLANCE at the clean, modern lines of St. Aidan's makes it quite clear to the casual observer that this is a post Vatican II church. The inscription on the foundation stone is therefore something of a surprise, for it claims to have been laid by Archbishop Amigo in 1930. The truth of the matter is that 1930 saw only the beginning of a long story. In that year, Adrian Scott was commissioned to build a large "Gothic revival" church.
It was to be cathedral-like in aspect, 130 feet long, 22 feet between the two lines of pillars down the nave, with a Lady chapel and Sacred Heart chapel on either side of the sanctuary—altogether an ambitious project for Coulsdon's congregation which, in 1930, numbered only 200.
The church was built in instalments, the first consisting of the sanctuary, Lady chapel and three quarters of the cast wall, sealed off with temporary north and west walls of wood and engineering brick which could be demolished when the time came for extension. The debt for this first instalment was £12,000; it was completed in 1931 and paid for in 1945. In 1953. large and well designed sacristy accommodation was added.
After my appointment as parish priest in November, 1961, I was faced with a diffi cult decision; should -. St. Aidan's be completed according to the original conception of Adrian Scott, or should its two permanent walls be incorporated into a new design? In 1930 "Gothic revival" was the established pattern for church building, but by 1961 many developments had taken place. The liturgical movement had advanced considerably, and it had become clear that churches of the future should be designed so as to foster maximum of lay participation in the liturgy. This was a trend soon to be ratified by the Second Vatican Council's "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy".
This new principle in church building was rendered a practical possibility by progress made in building techniques. Churches having a large roof span could now be built without the necessity for pillars. A church could therefore be conceived as basically square in plan, the congregation being gathered closely around the Sanctuary, having an unimpeded view of liturgical rites.
In the light of these developments, and as hardly a third of the original project had been completed, I decided to incorporate the two permanent walls into the building of a modern church.
The task I set the architect, Mr. Newton, was to preserve the permanent structure of the old St. Aidan's, and match it with an entirely new design for its completion. There were many problems in all this, and there were times when I wondered if it could be done successfully.
One of the problems involved was to achieve unity of design, and at the same time to make a frank admission of Gothic beginnings. In fact, the Gothic frames of the original windows have been preserved as a memorial to the old St. Aidan's, and with modern glass by Mr. Formantreaus, they blend well with the new building.
The floor of the church is in terrazzo tiles throughout, white over the sanctuary area, and Genoa green for the remainder. The ceiling is very simple, consisting of spaced parana pine boards, with black hessian between.
With regard to the furnishings of the church-altars, statue, tabernacle, font, lectern, paschal candlestick and sanctuary lamp are all the work of one artist. In a church at Emmenbrticke, near Lucerne, I had seen the work of Brother Xaver Ruckstuhl, a Benedictine monk of Engelberg Monastery, Switzerland, and it was clearly of a very high order. I therefore asked him to come to Coulsdon and produce designs for the furnishings of the new St. Aidan's.
Brother Xaver's product proved to be magnificent, and Graham Sutherland, visiting St. Aidan's, declared this was the work of a gifted and powerful artist.
The monolithic high altar is perhaps the finest example of his work. It is carved from Swiss marble, and decorated with a single cluster of Peruvian amethyst — the altar weighs five tons.
The Blessed Sacrament chapel is at the side to the left of the sanctuary and in view of the whole church. The tabernacle is of steel with a black oxidised finish and an amethyst on the door. It is built into the wall of the chapel, with a crucifix by Dunstan Prudens, hanging by its side, the only feature of the church not by Brother Xaver.
The bronze statue of the Madonna and child is near the font. fixed in a raised position on the wall of the church. The lectern, paschal candlestick and sanctuary lamp holder are all of wrought iron. The overall effect of the furnishings of St. Aidan's, through choice of material, and the proportions chosen, is one of great strength and forcefulness.