Roman Catholic parish church, designed in 1953-1954 by Gerard Goalen, built in 1958-1960, with stained glass designed and made by Dom Charles Norris of Buckland Abbey, assisted by Dom Paulinus Angold and Jerome Gladman.
Reasons for Designation
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Fatima, designed in 1953-1954 by Gerard Goalen and built in 1958-1960, with stained glass designed and made by Dom Charles Norris of Buckland Abbey, assisted by Dom Paulinus Angold and Jerome Gladman, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* as the first Liturgically inspired church to have been planned in England prior to its formalisation by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), with its T-shaped plan, sanctuary at the central crossing and freestanding altar being advanced for its time;
* as a striking piece of modernist architecture which significantly demonstrates the results of sweeping liturgical change in post-War England, it being a considered engagement with liturgical movement theology on part of both the parish priest and a modern architect;
* for the extensive scheme of brightly-coloured dalle de verre glass designed by Dom Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey, his first venture with the technique in the United Kingdom, and possibly the first major English example of its use, representing artistic embellishment of a significantly high quality;
* the liturgical furnishings not only incorporate liturgical movement ideas but also represent a very complete and coherent set of modern works of art as inspired by the French Ateliers d'Art Sacré (Studios of Sacred Art) movement;
* for its design by Gerard Goalen, one of the most important architects of the Roman Catholic Liturgical Movement in the United Kingdom.
* for the way it embraced the egalitarian ideals and spirit of new town planning, providing the Catholic community in Harlow with a space that connected their modern social and physical environment with their religious lives.
Harlow was designated a new town in 1947 to ease over-crowding in north-east London. Its master plan was drafted by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908-1990), who was nominally the chief architect as well as the master planner, and was approved by Government in 1949. From 1951 Roman Catholics in the new town held mass at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Old Harlow. In the following year, as the town’s population increased, four Roman Catholic parishes were established. The first was at Mark Hall North, the first neighbourhood to be completed, and was entrusted to a religious order, the Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception, with land being granted by the Development Corporation close to the site of the town's first shopping centre, The Stow. Fr Francis E Burgess was appointed parish priest in 1953, and a church hall (from where mass was held from 1955) and a primary school were quickly built, respectively to the designs of Sperry and Starczewski, and of E A Boxall.
In 1953, on Gibberd’s recommendation, the design for parish's new church was entrusted to Gerard Goalen (1918-1999), an architect with a strong passion for church building, but who was then working with Gibberd at the Development Corporation designing factories for the town’s industrial estates. Goalen had studied at the Liverpool School of Architecture where he had briefly worked for Francis Xavier Velarde (1897-1960), a major Roman Catholic church architect of the Inter-War and Post-War periods. His thesis had been for a modern pilgrimage church, inspired by Auguste Perret’s Notre-Dame du Raincy, near Paris (1922-1923), and he found in Fr Burgess a priest who also shared his passion for liturgical reform and modern church architecture.
Fr Burgess’s brief was for a church capable of holding 500 parishioners, in which the altar should be freestanding, in the midst of and clearly visible to the congregation. Seating was also requested for a further 500 parishioners on paved spaces outside the three narthexes, from where the high altar could be viewed through open doors. Goalen’s design was informed by his research and travels in Germany, Switzerland and France in 1958, where he visited notable examples of advanced liturgical design. Along with Notre-Dame du Raincy, he took inspiration from Karl Moser’s St Antonius, Basel (1921) and Albrecht Dietz’s and Bernhard Grothe’s St Mauritius in Alt-Saarbrücken (1953-1956), both noted for their exposed concrete frames and large areas of coloured glass, while the churches of the German architect Rudolf Schwarz were also a significant influence, with their emphasis of placing the altar amidst the congregation. At Harlow, Goalen adopted a T-shaped plan, with the altar placed at the crossing and seating arranged around this on three sides in the nave and transepts. This was a radical brief for 1953, and if funds had been available to start building when the plans were approved, in January 1954, this would have been the first post-war church in England built under the auspices of the Liturgical Movement.
The church's foundation stone was laid on 6 December 1958 by the Right Reverend Bernard Patrick Wall (1894-1976), Bishop of Brentwood from 1955 to 1969. At this time, however, the choice of maker for the glass that was to cover around sixty per-cent of the wall surfaces had still not been made. This was finally agreed upon in early 1959 following Fr Burgess’s visit to the studio of the Benedictine monk and artist Dom Charles Norris (1909-2004) at Buckfast Abbey, where he was developing the modern French technique known as dalle de verre, using one-inch thick slab glass set in concrete. The technique had been pioneered by Pierre Fourmaintraux (1896-1974) who is credited with training Norris in the technique following his appointment in 1956 as chief glass designer for James Powell and Sons (later Whitefriars Glass Studio). Norris subsequently went on to become one of the most prolific British proponents of dalle de verre, with Our Lady of Fatima being his first venture with the technique, and possibly the first major example of its use in England. The church was opened and blessed by the Bishop of Brentwood on 26 March 1960. It was reported in the Catholic Building Review (1960) to have cost £48,500, with Fr Burgess receiving considerable financial help from his parents.
By the time work had commenced on Our Lady of Fatima, Goalen had joined Frederick Gibberd’s practice, and in 1959 submitted an entry to the competition for a new design for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. However, much to Goalen’s chagrin, the competition was won by Gibberd despite his lack of church building experience or strong religious convictions, with his last-minute entry said to have been influenced by his attendance at Our Lady of Fatima's opening Mass. Goalen subsequently established his own practice, designing such churches as St Gregory the Great, South Ruislip (1965-1967), Thomas More, Swiss Cottage (1968), both listed at Grade II, and the Catholic Chaplaincy in Cambridge (1977).
In 2001, Our Lady of Fatima was closed due to problems with the stained-glass walls. Following the raising of £400,000 by parishioners along with a grant of £135,000 from English Heritage (now Historic England) and the Heritage Lottery Fund (now the National Lottery Heritage Fund), repairs commenced in 2003 and the church reopened in 2005. It closed again in 2017 to allow the cross and orb to be removed from the spire for safety reasons.
Roman Catholic parish church, designed in 1953-1954 by Gerard Goalen, built in 1958-1960, with stained glass designed and made by Dom Charles Norris of Buckland Abbey, assisted by Dom Paulinus Angold and Jerome Gladman. The attched cloister and presbytery are not of special interest.
MATERIALS: an in-situ reinforced-concrete frame with Surrey stock bricks laid in double stretcher garden wall bond to the aisle walls and end walls of the naves and transepts. The nave and transept roofs are comprised of wood-wool slabs supported on pre-cast concrete purlins and clad in long strip copper sheets, with concrete and asphalt to the aisles, narthexes, chapels and sacristy. The central needle spire is of plywood sheathed in copper.
PLAN: the church is orientated north to south but the following description assumes conventional liturgical orientation for example as if the altar is located at the ‘east’ end. It is T-shaped on plan (or three arms of a Greek cross), each with a narthex and aisles, with the central crossing occupied by a large apron-shaped sanctuary. On the east side, the former sacristy now accommodates a weekday chapel and the former working sacristy and vestry now houses the current sacristy. A former study area connected to the sacristies is now used as a Blessed Sacrament Chapel with an opening formed into the church space.
EXTERIOR: the gabled end walls to the west nave and north and south transepts are largely identical, each having a recessed narthex porch divided by two cast-stone piers to accommodate three pairs of multi-pane, double-leaf, glazed doors with brass sheet cladding, all beneath deep concrete lintels. The intermediate cast-stone piers and brick end walls all have square-shaped recesses to accommodate door handles when the doors are opened fully (seating for more than 500 parishioners on the paved surfaces outside the three narthexes, with views of the high altar through the open doors, was part of the original brief). The west wall has a cruciform rose window, the north and south walls have spoked-wheel rose windows, all with concrete frames, and the liturgical east wall is blind except for a hit and miss ventilation panel. Above the single-storey brick walls to the chapels, aisles and sacristy, the wall surfaces are dominated by concrete-framed windows containing dalle de verre glass, to which clear external panels were added in 2005. Rising above the centre of the sanctuary is a copper needle spire.
INTERIOR: the reinforced-concrete frame is exposed throughout, with the aisle walls and end walls of the naves and transepts being of exposed fair-faced brick laid in stretcher bond. Ceilings to the main body of the church are of wood-wool slabs over pre-cast concrete purlins and rafters, all exposed, while those elsewhere are of painted textured render. Floors are mainly laid with terrazzo tiles, with carpet (probably over terrazzo) under the pews.
The three narthexes are largely identical, with terrazzo floors with inset mat wells, marble holy-water wall sconces and glazed timber screens dividing them from the main body of the church. Each screen has a central pair of half-glazed doors with fanlights flanked on each side by three-light windows. Half-glazed double doors at the end of each narthex give access to the side aisles. The west narthex contains the former baptistery (now shop) on the north side, divided from it by a glazed timber screen with a half-glazed door, and late-C20/early-C21 family room on the south side, divided from it by a timber partition wall. The south narthex contains a terracotta figure of Our Lady of Fatima (originally in the Lady Chapel) by Mrs Scott Pitcher.
The apron-shaped sanctuary floor is raised by a single step and comprised of hexagonal terrazzo tiles with altar rails of white Roman marble supported by black Belgian marble columns. The altar stands on a three-stepped altar platform and has a white Roman marble mensa and black Belgian marble legs. A single-stepped platform behind the altar accommodates the priest celebrant’s chair. Rising behind the altar is a pierced mosaic screen with a gradine supporting four high altar candlesticks designed by Goalen and made by Anthony Hawksley (1921-1991) and a pointed niche containing a figure of Christ, King and Priest by the sculptor Daphne Hardy Henrion (1917-2003). Immediately above the screen is the organ loft with the organ pipes placed behind a slatted timber screen; the loft is accessed by a spiral staircase at the rear and the organ pipes are linked to an electronic organ on the church floor near the sanctuary. A hexagonal ambo stands to the left-hand side of the altar and a hexagonal pulpit to its right-rind side while a cylindrical font (originally in the baptistery) stand in the north-west corner of the sanctuary, all of white Roman marble with the pedestals of the ambo and pulpit and the legs of the font being of black Belgian marble. The paschal candle stand does not appear to be by Goalen, and neither is the current crucifix (Goalen’s crucifix is currently stored in the church).
The sanctuary is enclosed on the north, south and west sides by streamlined bench pews with pre-cast concrete frames and mahogany seats and kneelers, designed by Goalen and assembled by members of the parish.
The corner between the north transept west aisle and the west nave north aisle houses a small Lady Chapel with an early-C21 figure of Our Lady of Fatima against a background of grey mosaic tiles (the original figure is now in the south narthex). A further small chapel to St Augustine of Hippo accommodates the corner between the south transept west aisle and west nave south aisle. It contains a bronze statue of the saint against a grey mosaic tile background, installed in the early C21 as a memorial to Fr Francis Burgess (Parish priest 1953-1972).
Stations of the cross are grouped in the east aisles of the north and south transepts, made of Hopwood stone by Mrs Foord-Kelsey.
On the east side of the church, behind the altar screen, there are half-glazed double doors to a weekday chapel (originally a sacristy). It is simply furnished with a timber altar and ambo and small bench pews fixed to the west and north walls. Immediately to its right-hand side are timber double doors to the sacristy (formerly the working sacristy and vestry), which contains both original and later-C20 vestment cupboards, mainly of dark-stained timber. To the right again are two confessionals (also accessed from the sacristy), both with single timber doors. Situated to the left-hand side of the weekday chapel is the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which was created in the late C20 from a former study area linked to the sacristies when a small section of the wall was removed to connect it with the main body of the church. It has fair-faced brick walls with a timber slatted screen over the window, a tongue and groove boarded ceiling and a single-stepped altar platform with a marble altar.
The main internal foci are the dalle de verre glass windows which throw light from every angle into the church. The glass in the transepts depicts the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary while the slightly later (1961) glass in the nave shows the Tree of Jesse and the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. The end walls all have smaller rose windows with more abstract designs.