Building » Whitechapel – St Boniface (German church)

Whitechapel – St Boniface (German church)

Adler Street, London E1

A post-war church, replacing a church by J. Young of 1875 destroyed in the Second World War. This is the fifth church serving the German community in London. The plain modern building has a landmark tower incorporating four bells from the predecessor church, as well as high-quality furnishings, mostly by artists and craftsmen from Kevelaer in Germany, the birthplace of Rev. Felix Leushacke, who initiated the rebuilding.

In 1808, Fr Johannes (or John) Becker, originally from Switzerland, was appointed chaplain at the Virginia Street Chapel, the predecessor of the Commercial Road mission (qv). A year later he was joined by the Austrian Fr Franz Muth. In 1809 they opened a chapel at 22 Great St Thomas Apostle Street in the City, dedicated to St Peter and St Boniface, which was consecrated by Bishop Poynter in December that year. Between 1849 and 1853, the mission was in the care of the Redemptorists for whom W.W. Wardell designed a large Gothic church which remained unexecuted. In 1859, financial difficulties forced the mission priest to rent a former Nonconformist chapel in Friar Street, near Ludgate Circus. In 1859-60 E. W. Pugin produced designs for a German church and presbytery (unexecuted).

In 1862, the clergy bought the former Zion Chapel on the present site in Whitechapel (Union Street, later renamed Adler Street) at auction for £3,270 (which included several houses). This circular building had been a Methodist chapel. It re-opened as a Catholic church on the feast of St Michael 1862 in the presence of several German bishops, including the Bishop of Münster who said the Pontifical Mass. Dr Manning preached the sermon and Cardinal Wiseman blessed the building. In April 1873, the central cupola collapsed, destroying the building. The following year, E. W. Pugin prepared further plans for a replacement church, a German Gothic design, which again remained unexecuted.

In 1875, Cardinal Manning laid the foundation stone of a Romanesque church designed by John Young, which opened later that year. In 1882, a tower or spire was added and in 1885 the nave extended and an apse added. Four bells from the Whitechapel Bell Foundry were installed. In 1887, a mosaic frieze depicting St Boniface preaching was added to the exterior of the tower. From 1903 to 1996, the mission and parish were served by the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, or Pallottines. Young’s church was damaged in a Zeppelin-raid in 1917. It was consecrated in 1925 by Cardinal Schulte, Archbishop of Cologne. The church was destroyed by bombing in 1940 and Mass was said temporarily in the school.

The rebuilding of the church was initiated by the parish priest, Fr Felix Leushacke, advised by the architect T. Hermanns of Cleves (Kleve), Germany. On 7 November 1959 the foundation stone for the current church, on the site of its predecessor, was laid by Cardinal Godfrey. He opened the church on 2 October a year later, assisted by Bishop Cleven, Auxiliary Bishop of Cologne. The architects were Donald Plaskett Marshall & Partners. The artists and craftsmen of the furnishings and fittings mostly came from Kevelaer, near Kleve, the birthplace of Fr Leushacke. The only British artist involved, other than the architect, was Reginald Lloyd of Bideford, Devon. The church and presbytery were the first phase, and were followed by a club and a hostel (Wynfrid House); the latter was completed in 1972. At some point an additional storey was added to Wynfrid House. The original pulpit (by Reginald Lloyd) of precast concrete with inset carved slate panels has been removed. Iron work panels from the former altar rails were preserved in the church. (A photo of the original sanctuary is reproduced in CBR.S 1960, p. 46.)


The church is facing south, but this description uses conventional liturgical orientation.

The church was constructed using concrete-encased steel portal frames on deep reinforced concrete piles. The outer walls were faced in dark brown brick laid in stretcher bond and mosaic. The nave has a shallow-pitched copper-clad roof. On plan, the church is longitudinal, with a lower narthex and a southwest tower. Internally, the chancel is narrower than the nave.

The west elevation has a glazed timber screen on either side of three timber doors. Above is a large pattern of yellow squares and black crosses with very small windows with coloured glass. The tower is faced with grey mosaic with black gridlines. In the top stage, three sides are cut away where four nineteenth-century Whitechapel Foundry bells hang. The narthex bays to north and south are faced in orange mosaic. The side elevations have six clerestory windows and large chancel windows. Below that to the south is an area of grey mosaic and three square windows; below that to the north is the single-storey sacristy, faced in the same fawn-coloured brick as the presbytery. As well as the main west entrance, there are doors at the northwest and the north.

The full-width narthex has a brass panel with the history of the church (erected 1978), a brass plaque listing the names of the parish priests, a bronze plaque (by Joseph Welling of Koblenz) commemorating the link with the Pallotines 1903-96, and a plaque to Fr Felix Leushacke SAC (1913-97). A stair at the southwest leads up to the gallery above with the organ of 1965 by Romanus Seifert & Sohn, organ builders of Kevelaer and Cologne. The gallery is lit by five square skylights. The gable above the gallery roof has a stained glass window depicting Pentecost by Reginald Lloyd.

At either side of the doors into the nave are two timber confessionals and below the gallery opening are the fourteen Stations by the firm Georg Lang selig Erben of Oberammergau. Eleven Stations of 1912 come from the old church while three are post-war replacements by the same workshop. At the west end is the font (by Heribert Reul (1911-2008) of Kevelaer; photo bottom right) on a spherical triangle plan, of green marble like the main sanctuary furnishings. In the three corners are holy water stoups of glass. It has a sculpted bronze cover commemorating Josef Simml SAC, parish priest (died 1976).

The uncluttered six-bay nave is painted white, highlighting the few, high-quality and mostly original furnishings. At the northeast of the nave is the foundation stone beside a St Joseph statue on a pedestal. On the floor leans a plaster cast of a plaque from the old church asking visitors (in German) to pray for the donors.

The floor throughout the church is woodblock but the central part of the sanctuary has a white marble platform which was enlarged in the post-Vatican II reordering. On the exterior only the northeast corner narrows above the low sacristy, while internally the chancel narrows on both sides as a gallery occupies the southeast corner. The focus at the east end is a large mural (April 1960) in sgraffito technique with coloured and textured plaster by Reul, depicting Christ in Glory with St Boniface, the apostle of the Germans. Below is the tabernacle with a blessing hand, two fish and five loaves in beaten copper and silver emblems with rock crystals (designed by Reul, executed by Paul van Oyen of Kevelaer) on a green marble stand. On either side hang wrought-ironwork panels by Reginald Lloyd which used to be part of the altar rails. These depict (clockwise from top left): symbols of the Eucharist, symbols of the Passion, the Agnus Dei and the stag from Psalm 42, and the Wedding at Cana. Lectern and paschal candle stand are of wrought iron. The forward altar may incorporate parts of the original green marble high altar. The altar cross (behind the tabernacle) and the candlesticks were made by the silversmith Wilhelm Polders (1914-92) of Kevelaer. The gallery at the southeast has another wrought-iron screen by Lloyd depicting the Crucifixion with the Nativity and the Resurrection. Below the gallery is the sanctuary lamp in the shape of a small wrought-iron dove.

At the southeast of the nave is the Lady Altar of green marble with a modern copy (by G. Wehling of Kevelaer) of a Rhenish statue of the Virgin and the Child (c.1600). Beside it is a plaster cast of a memorial plaque (in German) commemorating the consecration in 1925 of the predecessor church.

Heritage Details

Architect: Donald Plaskett Marshall & Partners

Original Date: 1959

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed