Building » Princes Risborough – St Teresa of the Child Jesus

Princes Risborough – St Teresa of the Child Jesus

Aylesbury Road/New Road, Princes Risborough, Bucks

A landmark church, built from designs by the Piedmontese-Welsh architect Giuseppe Rinvolucri. The brick-built church has an unusual plan form and silhouette. The plan is a triangle interpenetrating a hexagon, with six apsidal projections giving off a central space, three of them semicircular and three of them attenuated triangles. A hexagonal dome rises over the central space. The central dome suggests Byzantine influences, such as S Vitale, Ravenna or Sta Sophia. However, the geometry of the plan is more Baroque, recalling Borromini’s church of St Ivo in Rome. The church has been somewhat altered, with the internal arrangements turned around by 180 degrees in the 1970s, and more recently a large new entrance addition has been built. The contemporary presbytery has also been greatly altered. However, the church interior contains some notable original furnishings in the chapel of St Teresa, as well as significant later enrichments by Rosamund Fletcher, Stephen Foster and Joseph Nuttgens.

In 1923 Mass resumed in Princes Risborough, in a local hall hired by Alan Turner, a convert (the hall, known then as Chalfont Hall, was bought by the parish in the 1950s and renamed Walsingham Hall). In 1928 a World War I army tin hut from Halton was given to the mission and converted into a church, dedicated to St Teresa of the Child Jesus. In 1936 Fr Dreves was appointed and became the first resident priest. He determined to build a worthy church to replace the tin hut. On a visit to Lisieux he prayed to St Teresa, pleading for £3,000 towards a church. In a story that obtained international press coverage, the money was subsequently donated by two strangers who came to Mass in the tin church. With these funds Fr Dreves acquired a plot at the corner of Duke Street and Aylesbury Road, and plans for a church and presbytery were drawn up by the Welsh-based Italian architect Giuseppe Rinvolucri. The foundation stone was laid on May 17 1937 and the new church was blessed on 5 June, Whit Sunday, 1938. The church was consecrated by Bishop Parker in 1945, but Princes Risborough did not become a full canonical parish until 1961.

In the 1970s the church was re-arranged, with the western entrance blocked and a new altar created at this end. A new porch was built at the (geographical) east end and a gallery inserted. In 1979 a suspended ceiling was introduced into the main space, obscuring the dome. Made for acoustic reasons and to help keep down heating costs, this change was noted with regret by The Buildings of England. Happily, it has now been reversed. In about 1980 part of the church land was sold off when a new roundabout was created. More recently, the 1970s porch has been replaced by a large new addition at the east end, housing an entrance lobby, WCs and stairs to the gallery.

To mark the centenary of the death of St Teresa in 1997, and her becoming a Doctor of the Church, the statues of the saint in the church were restored and the shrine renewed. The shrine is made up of wooden panels painted by Stephen Foster to recall St Teresa’s room in the Carmel at Lisieux. Foster also made the carved, painted and gilded reredos behind the main altar and a carved tympanum piece, now hanging in the new lobby. The Stations of the Cross are also by Foster, 1990-91. In 2000 new stained glass windows by Joseph Nuttgens were installed in the apsidal projections on either side of the sanctuary and in the former entrance area behind the present altar.


An unusual brick church in a loosely Byzantine style, by Giuseppe Rinvolucri, 1937-8. The plan form is more Borrominiesque than Byzantine. It consists of a triangle interpenetrating a hexagon, with six apsidal projections giving off a central space, three of them semicircular and three of them attenuated triangles. The plan form is perhaps a deliberate reference to St Teresa’s symbol, the rose. A hexagonal concrete dome, externally clad with plain tiles, rises over the central space, with a cross on a slender stepped base at its crown. The main entrance to the church was originally on the west side, via steps on either side of the extended triangular projection here, but has now been moved to the east side, via a new addition. The original entrance doors are now glazed in, and between them in a recess at the corner is a modern statue of St Teresa. The original concrete gutters around the base of the dome and at the springing of the semi-domes over the projections have been overlaid by lead and the parapets tile-hung, presumably for ease of maintenance and repair. There are rows of high-level small arched windows around the apsidal projections, and on the east side on either side of the new addition are original single-storey flat-roofed appendages housing sacristies etc.

The modern addition on the east side of the church is of closely matching brick, and consists of a single-storey flat-roofed section with a canted timber window on the east elevation and entrance steps under a projecting canopy on the north side. Set back and rising above this is a two storey element, also flat roofed, with three round arched windows.

The large modern entrance contains WCs, confessionals, and stairs up to the gallery. Over the doors to the church is a modern low-relief carved and painted panel of the Sacred Heart by Stephen Foster. The church is entered from the east side, the former sanctuary, beneath the inserted gallery in the eastern apsidal projection. The internal wall surfaces are rendered and painted white. Tall round headed arches give off each side of the hexagon onto the apsidal projections, and the hexagonal dome rises from the angles of the piers to these arches.

The church has a notable collection of furnishings. The sanctuary now lies at the geographical west end of the building, where the apsidal projection has been screened off and an arched recess created at floor level, in which is placed a richly carved and gilded panel reredos of angels adoring the Agnus Dei, by Stephen Foster. Above this hangs a painted crucifix, in primitive Italian style, given in 1960. On the south side of the church is a triangular chapel with a pink marble altar to St Teresa, with an inset frontal in ceramic ware depicting the death of St Teresa, and signed and dated Richard Guino, 1937 (photo above). Guino (1890-1973) was a French sculptor and ceramist of Catalan origin. Placed upon this altar is a three dimensional ceramic sculpture of the recumbent saint (now painted), also by Guino. The wooden panels behind this were set up in 1997 and painted by Stephen Foster. The altar rail in front dates from 1957 and comes from the original high altar. It is finely carved in the Arts and Crafts manner, by Rosamund Fletcher. Other furnishings include the Giottoesque Stations of the Cross, timber carved in low in low relief and painted, by Stephen Foster, 1990-1, fixed to the piers around the central space, and, in Our Lady’s chapel, a charming carved and painted panel of St Joseph the Carpenter and the young Christ, signed and dated RMBF 1956, presumably also the work of Rosamund Fletcher.

The church has a notable collection of stained glass. The six windows in St Teresa’s chapel were installed in 1950 and were designed and made by Pilgrim Wetton (1924-94). One set of three shows St Teresa flanked by her parents, the other set St Teresa flanked by the Holy Family. The six windows in Our Lady’s chapel are also by Wetton and date from 1951; they depict the Annunciation and Our Lady, Queen of Heaven. More recently, a fine set of windows was commissioned from Joseph Nuttgens (whose studio at Piggott’s Hill is in the parish) to mark the millennium. The group of nine windows in the apsidal projection to the left of the sanctuary is on the theme of fire, while the group of nine on the right relates to water. Further millennium windows are over the external statue of St Teresa (Fish and Stars) and two roundels hanging inside the original entrance to the church, to either side of the statue of St Teresa (Nativity and Suffer the Children). Other furnishings include a small pipe organ in the gallery made by Kenneth Tickell of Northampton (1989).

The presbytery lies to the east of, and is contemporary with the church. As originally designed by Rinvolucri it was in a streamlined moderne style, with white rendered walls, flat roof and metal windows wrapping around the corners. However, it has since been recased in brick, given a shallow-pitched roof, and the windows replaced.

Heritage Details

Architect: Giuseppe Rinvolucri

Original Date: 1938

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed