Wembley Park Avenue, Hull, East Yorkshire
St Francis ofAssisiis a well crafted building with good attention to detail and furnishings. A criterion for the design of the church was that it should be ‘a gently unfolding building– a religious experience to touch the emotions’. This challenging brief has been impressively realised by Stienlet, especially with regard to the interior. A good contemporary Catholic church.
The parish was established in 1973 with a temporary portakabin church. ‘The parish priest lives in his caravan beside the chapel, building up a thriving community’ according to Robert Carson, writing in 1978. Not until 1996-7 was the parish able to build a permanent church. It was commissioned by Father Michael Dunn after he saw Stienlet’s church of the same name inSheffield. Vincente Stienlet is the third generation of an architectural practice founded in North Shields in 1904 by Pascal Stienlet. All three generations have designed Catholic churches and the present Vincente (his father bore the same name) designed his first church, St Oswald’sSouth Shields, in 1965. He has gone on to design many more, a number winning architectural awards.
A striking feature of the church is its plan, the worship space a hexagon with one side broken and leading into a wing containing the narthex and ancillary accommodation and linking to the pre-existing presbytery. The hexagon is also extruded to the north to provide a meeting room which extends into the narthex wing. This produces a complex roof geometry, appearing pyramidal from the south but the pyramid broken by one plane continuing up and providing a glazed elevation and with a stainless steel cross at the highest point over the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Otherwise the interior of the worship space is lit by vertical slit windows from floor to eaves. The north elevation is dominated by the roof, which here becomes somewhat awkward, sweeping down to a horizontal band of windows lighting the meeting room. The main roof also sweeps down to form a canopy to the entrance, the corner rather unconvincingly supported on a thin column.
The exterior is clad in yellow brick and the roof in grey slate. The yellow brick is carried through as banding between the blockwork walls. Narthex corridor with a run of nine stained glass windows by Cate Watkinson on themes from St Francis’ ‘Canticles of the Sun’. Toilets, kitchens etc are accommodated on the left and there is a spiral staircase to the upper floor meeting rooms etc engagingly expressed in a cylindrical enclosure with a window looking through to the stair from the narthex. The main worship area, a single-cell space, is entered with a sense of surprise as there is not sign of the altar and the lighting is subdued. The first object encountered is the large cylindrical stone font worked by Fred Watson from a block of granite fromWest Hartlepooldock wall. Immediately adjoining is the Blessed Sacrament chapel, fully glazed between chapel and church and with a strikingly original tabernacle.
The main space is tent like with low perimeter aisles with pilotis supporting the main roof. Curved seating is arranged in a semi circle, encircling the stone altar of dramatic cubic form. Lighting around the perimeter is subdued but the area between the altar and the Blessed Sacrament chapel is bathed in light from the large high-level window opposite the organ which is set on a gallery under which the church was entered. Raised on a step behind the altar a fixed ambo and chair of presidency. The step is contiguous with the plinth of the Blessed Sacrament chapel. In one corner, V-shaped and hidden behind a wall is the Lady Chapel with a statue of the Annunciation by Fenwick Lawson.
Architect: Vincente Stienlet
Original Date: 1996
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed