Weston-Super-Mare - Corpus Christi

John Bevan

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An interwar church in Byzantine-basilican style, with an impressive brick interior and a stone-faced west elevation. The original baldacchino over the high altar has been lost but the church retains some good furnishings, including fine stained glass windows by the Harry Clarke Studios of Dublin.

In 1921, a chapel dedicated to Corpus Christi was built in Carlton Street. This replaced the Mass centre in the convent school run by the La Retraite Sisters. Also in 1921, the present site, then occupied by a large semi-detached house (12 Ellenborough Park South), was purchased. The house became the presbytery, and the present church was built behind it. The foundation stone for the church was laid by Bishop Burton on 8 September 1928 and it was opened on 6 June 1929, having been blessed the previous night by Mgr (later Bishop) Lee. The architect was John Bevan FRIBA of Bristol and the contractors Hendey & Sons of Bristol (who also built Bevan’s earlier church at Bedminster, qv). The overall cost was £16,000. The church was in an Early Christian basilican/Byzantine style, with cancellae at the entrance to the sanctuary and a grand Bath stone and marble baldacchino over the high altar (figure 1). It was consecrated by Bishop Lee in 1934.

Later no. 16, another semi-detached house, was acquired for use as the parish school. In 1961, the parish priest purchased Ellenborough Park as playing fields and the following year, a new school was opened on the site of 10 and 12 Ellenborough Park South, beside the church. No. 14 became the new presbytery.

The sanctuary was reordered by Ivor Day & O’Brien of Bristol in 1961. They removed the baldacchino over the high altar and lined the ceiling of the apse with fibrous plaster coffering. At the same time the outside walls were covered with Tyrolean render, apart from the main front, where the stonework was cleaned. In a later reordering the altar was brought forward, the sanctuary walls lined with marble, and the cancellae and pulpit removed. A parish hall was built in the 1970s. 

The church faces south. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was to the east.

The church was built in 1928-9 to designs by John Bevan Junior. The west elevation is faced in Bath stone, while the side elevations are covered with Tyrolean render. The roof is tiled. The plan is basilican, consisting of a nave with lean-to aisles and a semi-circular apse. At the southeast is a flat-roofed sacristy and Lady Chapel.

The west elevation has a flat-roofed porch with the entrance door under a carved tympanum flanked by cushion-capital columns. On either side are oblong windows; on the north face is a side door. Above the porch is a central circular window and a carving of the chalice and Host. The west aisle windows are round-headed, with channelled rusticated surrounds.

The interior has a more robustly Byzantine character. It is faced in red brick, laid in Flemish bond, which is enlivened by visually interesting patterns formed by recessed bricks and bricks laid on edge. The ten-bay interior has an open king-post roof. The nave arcade is supported by alternating stone columns with capitals carved with Christian symbols (by G. Hillmann) and square brick piers. Above each arch is one round-headed clerestory window. The gallery at the west is supported on two columns similar to those of the arcade; the organ, installed in 1965, came from the Bible Christian church, Barry Dock, South Wales. The side aisles are narrow passage aisles, with the confessionals in the south aisle. Above the confessional doors are murals (of St Peter, Christ and St Mary Magdalene) by Jean Clark, executed in 1966 under the terms of the Edwin Austen Abbey Memorial Trust Fund for mural painting in Great Britain.

The square brick and stone font stands at the northwest corner. Its stem is a short capital with volutes. The easternmost bay of the interior is clearly marked as being part of the sanctuary by having two smaller arches per bay (with grilles to the chapels) with a thermal window above. On either side of the chancel arch are stone statues of the Sacred Heart and St Joseph. The half dome of the apsidal sanctuary has fibrous plaster coffering of 1961 and walls lined in marble in a later reordering. The marble high altar has been modified and brought forward. The Lady Chapel at the southeast is part of the sacristy block which may have been added later or was rebuilt as the walls are not of brick but are painted to resemble pointed red bricks. Unlike the northeast chapel, the Lady Chapel has a thermal window to the east.

The most notable furnishings are the stained glass windows: the north aisle has two fine windows by Harry Clarke Studios (figure 2), four by John Hardman Studios and one unsigned copy of William Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World. The south aisle has one window by Harry Clarke Studios, two by John Hardman Studios, and one by Kevin Kelly of The Abbey Stained Glass Studios. There is further stained glass in the side chapels, the thermal windows in the sanctuary, and the west window.

Diocese: Clifton

Architect: 1929

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not listed