I said in my last post that Temple Row does not take it’s name from Birmingham’s Anglican Cathedral, though since the building’s churchyard adjoins the thoroughfare it would be a simple enough assumption to make.
That said this is no typical cathedral. Like Bradford Cathedral it was originally a parish church and remained so for a couple of centuries until it achieved promotion early in the 20th Century, becoming St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham and the seat of the city’s bishop.
It’s unusual in that it is built in the Baroque style, something rarely seen in English Churches aside from those of Wren and Hawksmoor. The style is more likely to be encountered in grand stately homes such as Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall or Castle Howard. All three of the architects worked on the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.
The only church I can think of that is vaguely similar to St Philip’s is the iconic Normanton Church on Rutland Water, a building that I’ve never visited but long to photograph, although that iconic status means it will be difficult to produce an original image! It too shares the balustrade around the roofline that seems more appropriate to a sweeping external staircase or a courtyard boundary.
I wonder how many of those passers-by ever detour from their journeys to venture inside? They certainly should for that is where the real beauty of the church can be appreciated, not so much in the architecture, which is flamboyant in its faux marbling and gilt details, but in the windows.
Each end of the structure features works by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones that were installed as the building was extended and refurbished prior to its elevation to cathedral status. Burne-Jones designed The Adoration of the Magi, a tapestry produced by Morris & Co that became the most commercially successful of those produced by the company. I was regularly exposed to it in my youth for one of the 10 copies produced hangs above the altar in St Andrew’s Roker where I was a chorister singing morning and evening every Sunday. The amount of detail sustained my interest through many a long sermon!
Here in St Philip’s he turned his creativity to the design of stained glass, a medium that you might think had its limits in terms of artistry, and that might be true had his approach been to compose purely using blocks of colour, but no, a closer look reveals details on clothing that have been hand painted to resemble printed fabrics (maybe from the Morris & Co catalogue?).
Those passers-by in the bustling city outside don’t know what they’re missing.