Burnham-on-Sea - Our Lady and the English Martyrs

Highbridge Road, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset TA8

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A well-designed post-Vatican II church on an oval plan lit by an oval lantern. The rock-faced exterior has a rather fortress-like quality. The interior has been reordered, subdividing the main space, and a new entrance porch has been added.

A mission in neighbouring Highbridge was founded in 1871 and Mass was said in Burnham from 1872. In 1887, a group of French Sisters of La Retraite founded a boarding school in Burnham-on-Sea. The following year, they also founded a convent with a chapel used for public worship (opened in 1890). (The boarding school and convent closed in 1984 and were converted to a nursing home.) In 1900, Fr (later Mgr Canon) Hugh Lean arrived, the first resident priest to serve the mission (transferred from Highbridge to Burnham) and the convent.

The church was built in 1965–7 to a design by Peter J. W. Ware. It is built on an oval plan. Originally, the altar was placed along the long west wall; after the recent reordering it is now at the short north end. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was placed at the east end.

The external walls are faced in rock-faced Portland stone, while the recent entrance porch is clad in a polished stone. The church, the lantern and the porch have copper roofs. The raised lantern with a clerestory window band is surmounted by a small copper cross. The external walls have vertical slits window; additional doors to the sacristies are at the rear. The main (south) door and the side door (east) have curved jambs. Above the main entrance is a statue of the Virgin Mary, in this position since 1967.

The new porch leads into the corridor which gives access to WCs, small meeting rooms, a kitchen, the sacristies, the gallery stair and the parish office. New etched glass doors lead into the church. The interior is roughly oval, although some internal walls are canted. (In 1967, the interior was described as octagonal.) The west half of the interior is divided by a glass screen to form a multipurpose space (without ceiling). Several doors in the screen can be opened to provide overflow space for larger services. Quatrefoil Stations of the Cross are affixed to the fascia above the glass screen. The interior is lit by the oval lantern which has some coloured glass panels. Golden stars around its edge replaced original light fixtures in 2011.

The organ gallery runs along the north side; the balustrade of a formerly matching gallery above the south entrance has been enclosed. The sanctuary in the apex of the oval has the original Portland stone altar and a matching lectern on an oval raised platform. Behind the platform is a low screen with backlit stained glass panels and the tabernacle shelf. Behind and above this screen is the original timber sanctuary crucifix. To the right of the sanctuary is a recess with a statue of the Virgin Mary, the square stone font (moved from its original position in a sunken baptistery), and a vertical window filled with stained glass depicting religious symbols. Another statue of the Virgin Mary (of alabaster) is in the new porch.

In 1965–7, a separate parish church was built on a new site. The architect Peter J. W. Ware ARIBA of Bristol designed an oval church which enabled seating on three sides of the altar, allowing greater intimacy and congregational participation, in line with the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council. The overall cost of the church was about £55,000 (excluding furnishings) and it was able to seat 300. The rock-faced exterior was to express ‘a sense of unity and strength’. The foundation stone was laid in 1965 and the church was opened on 19 April 1967 by Bishop Rudderham. It was consecrated on 26 October 1979 by Bishop Alexander.

In 2011, an entrance porch was added and the interior reordered (LED Architects, Highbridge). The church interior was divided to form a multipurpose space, and the altar moved from the long side opposite the entrance to the short side at the north. (The former church hall on the opposite side of the road had been developed with housing.) Until January 2015 Burnham was served from Cheddar; since then, it has been served from Bridgwater.

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: Peter J. W. Ware

Original Date: 1967

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed