Leicester - The Most Blessed Sacrament

Gooding Avenue, Leicester LE3

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A large and austere brick basilica of the 1950s erected to serve the needs of both the parish and a Priory. The interior is a handsome space of considerable architectural quality. It has lost its original high altar and baldacchino, but has new wall paintings of note in the apse and transepts.   The building has some additional historic interest through its connection with the Priory of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, being the first church in Britain designed for that Congregation.

In 1925 Leicester City Council purchased the Braunstone Hall Estate for new housing development and in 1936 a new Catholic parish was created to serve the western parts of Leicester. It was placed under the charge of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and was the first church in Britain designed for that Congregation, which had been founded in Paris in 1856. A small temporary timber church was erected on part of the present oval site in Gooding Avenue in 1937 and plans were drawn up by the diocesan architect E. Bower Norris for a substantial new church and a Priory house for the religious community. Only the last of these was built before the Second World War; it was a large building nine windows wide and of two main storeys with an  attic  storey  in  the  roof  and  was  called  Eymard  House  (after  St  Peter  Julian Eymard, French founder of the Congregation).

After the war Bower Norris simplified his pre-war plans for the church to reduce the costs and the building was completed in 1957.

In 1966 the upper floor of Eymard House was badly damaged by fire, and in the course  of  repairs (by  Sandy  &  Norris)  the  opportunity  was  taken  to  enlarge  the building by the addition of an additional storey, giving 12 additional bedrooms and a library. The cost of this work was £33,000.

In the 1970s the sanctuary of the church was drastically re-ordered. As built, the high altar stood in the apse at the rear of the sanctuary and was surmounted by a stone throne for the monstrance for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, high above the altar. The throne was approached by concealed steps on either side and was covered by a stone baldacchino supported at the front on two Corinthian columns. A stone pulpit was built against the left side of the sanctuary arch and was separated from the nave by a low stone altar rail. All this was removed and a new altar made out of parts of the original altar.

1990 the Blessed Sacrament Fathers took the decision to leave Leicester. The Priory was sold and a new presbytery was built in the grounds next to the church.

The church of the Blessed Sacrament is a large building in a stripped Italianate style. The plan comprises an aisled nave and sanctuary under a continuous roof, with short transepts.   The walls are faced with straw-coloured Leicester brick and the roof is covered with Roman pantiles.  The gabled west front is tall and austere with a central arched recess containing the entrance door with a triple light window above.   The nave aisles are flat roofed, windowless on the north side and with a lower corridor with small square windows attached to the south side.  Above the aisles on each side is a tall clerestorey with four pairs of round-headed windows with square glazing. The short transepts have shallow gables and triple windows like those of the clerestorey. An octagonal crossing tower was shown on the 1956 design but was omitted, presumably on grounds of economy. The sanctuary extends one bay east of the crossing and again has a triplet of tall windows on each side.   The east end wall is blind.

The interior is a handsome architectural space given character by the extensive use of plain unmoulded round arches.  The walls throughout are plastered and painted.  The nave has north and south arcades each of three low arches opening onto windowless passage aisles.  The western bay of the nave is occupied by a gallery with an arcaded front at ground level and in the gallery itself the west window is set in a round headed arch flanked by similar blind arches.  The crossing is generously proportioned with simplified capitals to the main arches on all four sides and plain inner arches to the transepts. The sanctuary with its canted inner apse behind a further arch, seems slightly bare, lacking the original elaborate throne for the Blessed Sacrament with its baldacchino above. The fittings are not elaborate; the timber nave benches and choir stalls are presumably original, the stone altar was made in 1980 from the original high altar. The apse and the transept end walls have modern paintings by Jennifer Bell of Campion Bell of West Bridgford near Nottingham (where she has also carried out a major mural scheme, qv).

Diocese: Nottingham

Architect: E. Bower Norris of Sandy & Norris

Original Date: 1956

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not listed