The design of a lighting scheme and the light fittings themselves can have a positive impact on the way your building looks as well as being functional.

Image of the nave of Boxgrove Priory showing the lighting effect illuminating the ceiling and other features.
Carefully design lighting adds to the impact in Boxgrove Priory, West Sussex © St.Ann’s Gate Architects LLP

Light levels

Uniformly bright lighting throughout your historic place of worship will generally not be appropriate. Historically, interiors were lit by daylight and supplemented by candles, oil or gaslight. Many spaces within historic architecture were not intended to be lit. Illuminating features such as roof structures can potentially disrupt the character of the space and so is not always suitable.

The most sympathetic lighting therefore will simply reinforce natural light in the daytime, while night time lighting will reflect historic methods of illumination. If you need advice on new lighting, we recommend using independent consultants rather than lighting suppliers or contractors. We also encourage you to involve your Inspecting Architect.

Image of a display in York Minster called Let There Be Light
An exhibition in York Minster called Let There Be Light © Historic England

New schemes

When planning new lighting schemes, we recommend options which minimise physical impacts on historic fabric and which are not visually intrusive. This might include locating lights in discreet or high level places, such as hidden at the wall plate.

You will need to carefully consider the routes of all cabling or equipment required to operate the lighting. You will also need to think about how to access the lighting for maintenance.

Pendant lighting is often a practical and sympathetic means of providing functional lighting and can be designed to be an adornment to the building. Spot or flood lighting is the most common alternative to pendant lighting, and can sometimes be employed to dramatic effect, although the equipment can be obtrusive and its location needs careful consideration.

Changes in lighting regimes and technology can make an important contribution to the building's energy efficiency. European Union directives are steadily reducing the availability of the most inefficient forms of incandescent lamps (in other words, light bulbs) so new light sources need to be found for places of worship. The cost of purchase, length of life, quality of light and appearance of the lamp are all considerations in choosing which type of lamp to use.

See the Energy Efficiency in places of worship page for more information on lowering your energy use.

External floodlighting schemes should avoid causing light pollution and may not be appropriate, particularly for isolated rural churches. Archaeological advice may be required in respect of sunken lamps and cabling routes.

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