WILTON IN WILTSHIRE was capital of Wessex between the 9th and 11th centuries (AD). Today, it is famous for its carpet manufacturing and the wonderful Wilton House, which has been home to the Earls of Pembroke since 1544, when King Henry VIII gave it to them after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The House, which contains a fabulous collection of paintings by the great masters, was built on the site of Wilton Abbey (established in 871 AD).
St Mary’s church in the centre of Wilton was originally the first Anglo-Saxon church in the town. It was first built in the 9th century, and then rebuilt in the 12th century. The newer church was further modified in the 15th century. However, by the 18th century it was becoming dilapidated. In 1751, the surving part of the church became used as a mortuary chapel for the Earls of Pembroke. This situation remained unchanged until 1848, when the construction of the large Italianate church of St Mary and St Nicholas was completed in nearby West Street. Then, the old St Mary’s was demolished except for the chancel and the first bay of the nave (than next to the chancel). This survivor is rarely used for services and is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, which looks after historic churches of interest that have become redundant. Outside the preserved part of St Mary’s there are a few gothic arches, remains of the previously much larger church.
We have visited Wilton several times, to see both Wilton House and the Italianate church, as well as to partake of refreshments in the town’s cafés, but it was only today (7th of October 2022) that I first noticed the remains of St Mary’s. This only goes to show that revisiting a place often can be rewarding.
ENNISMORE GARDENS MEWS IS about 380 yards west of Exhibition Road near South Kensington. It is the site of a church with an Italianate façade, now the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints. A tall bell tower stands to the right of the façade as you look at it from the street. Pevsner described the style of the façade as “Lombardic Romanesque”. He noted:
“The Early Christian/Italian-Romanesque style was a speciality of the 1840s…”
Although many of the fittings in the church are typical of Russian Orthodox places of worship (e.g., iconostasis and icons), the interior is not typical of edifices built specifically for the Orthodox church. The coloured panels above the arches (supported by iron pillars) lining the nave are not typical of the kinds of images usually associated with the Orthodox Church. They have captions in both English and Latin, but not in Cyrillic. The church was designed as the Anglican Church of All Saints in 1848-1849 by Lewis Vulliamy (1791-1871). The tower was constructed in 1871. Most of the decoration within the building is in the late 19th century Arts and Crafts style.
The Anglican parish, which was based in the former All Saints, merged with another in 1955. Then the church was let to the Russian Orthodox faith and its name changed to its present one. In 1978, the Sourozh Diocese purchased the edifice. The Sourozh is under the control of the Patriarchate of Moscow. The church in Ennismore Gardens Mews has a multi-national Orthodox congregation. I asked a bearded priest how the cathedral differed from the Russian church in Harvard Road, Chiswick. He replied:
“We are the Orthodox Church based in Moscow, but the other one in Chiswick is the Orthodox Church based outside Russia … it is very complicated.”
Wilton in Wiltshire is almost 80 miles southwest of the Russian church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. Famed for its fine carpet manufacturing, the town has a church, St Mary and St Nicholas, whose façade looks not too different from that of South Kensington’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The Wilton church has a similar bell tower, but it placed on the left side of the façade. The church was commissioned by Sidney Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Lea (1810-1861), a close ally and supporter of Florence Nightingale of Crimean War fame. Sidney was a son of George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke and his Russian spouse Catherine (née Yekaterina Semyonovna Vorontsova). The church, completed in 1845, was designed by Thomas Henry Wyatt (1807-1880) and his assistant David Brandon (1813-1897).
With many features borrowed from Italian Romanesque architecture, and some from Byzantine designs, the edifice at Wilton, despite being an Anglican parish church, felt to me slightly more like an Orthodox church than the converted ex-Anglican, now Orthodox, church in Ennismore Gardens Mews. However, the interior fittings in the church in Wilton borrow from what can be found in traditional Italian churches rather than in typical eastern Orthodox churches. But, the mosaic covered cupola over the chancel in Wilton’s Anglican church, with its depiction of Christ with two saints resembling what is often found in Byzantine churches, contrasts with the undecorated cupola over the chancel in what has now become the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Kensington.
Placed side by side, many differences could be discerned between the church in south Kensington and that in Wilton. But it is the similarities between two churches designed by different architects that are remarkable.