Planning the Church

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London, St Martin Ludgate, interior, looking north

The new churches were designed for the Protestant services of the Church of England, a very different affair from the medieval Catholic worship for which its predecessor was built. A dignified emphasis on the east end, where the altar stood, was essential, but it no longer needed a large screened-off chancelGlossary Term reserved for the use of the priests; the flat recess provided made sure that the communion service was held in full view of the congregation. It was also vital that all could see and listen to the pulpitGlossary Term, from which the sermon was preached, and also the desk below it (since removed), from which the congregation was led through the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.

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London, St Martin Ludgate, interior, looking east

The main interior took the form of a rectangle with its longest axis running east to west, which suited the traditional position of the altar at the east end. But the feeling is not at all traditional, because the space is organized around four CompositeGlossary Term columns, placed so as to make a central square. This square is covered with a groin-vaultGlossary Term from which barrel-vaults run off in the four main directions, leaving lower, flat-ceilinged spaces in the corners. The resulting 'cross-in-square' plan can be traced back to the earliest centuries of church architecture. Wren may have had in mind some recent Dutch examples, or some similarly planned chapels built in the outskirts of London not long before. His design differs from the older chapels in its tall imposing proportions and enriched architectural detail, such as the cofferingGlossary Term around the triple arches to the vestibule side.

At St Martin the plan was combined with a broad entrance lobby, which helped to handle the shift between the entrance axis and the alignment of the main interior towards the east. It also served to exclude noise from passing traffic, and allowed a galleryGlossary Term to be included above, looking into the church proper. The plan also shows how the architecture disguises the irregular outline at the east, a relic of the medieval site.

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London, St Martin Ludgate, Plan



The eastern part or end of a church, where the altar is placed; usually set apart for the clergy.


Arrangement of sunken panels (coffers), square or polygonal, decorating a ceiling, vault or arch.


One of the orders of classical architecture in which the capital of the column combines the volutes of the Ionic order with the foliage of the Corinthian.


A long room or passage; an upper storey above the aisles of a church, looking through arches to the nave; a balcony or mezzanine overlooking the main interior space of a building; or an external walkway.


Sharp edge at the meeting of two compartments (cells) of a groin-vault.


Raised and enclosed platform for the preaching of sermons. Three-decker: with reading desk below and clerk’s desk below that. Two-decker: as above, minus the clerks’ desk.