St Paul’s Bow Common, Burdett Road junction with St Paul's Way, London, E3 4AR   

A tour of St Paul’s Bow Common
The best modern church

In 2013, the National Churches Trust, the Twentieth Century Society and the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association organised a search for the best modern church in the UK.  Awarding the prize to St Paul’s Bow Common, the judges said they had sought uplifting architecture that celebrated Christianity and churches that best responded to changes in religious liturgy and practice.  

Self-guided tour

Start just inside the main west doors

1.  Standing just inside the main west end doors, you can see the whole church – the central altar, the mosaics, two discreet chapels and the light coming into the building directly above the altar.

The architectural style is sometimes called New Brutalism, from the French word for “raw”.  Industrial materials are used in the design: concrete slabs on the floor, woodwool tiles in the lantern ceiling and bare brickwork.  The emphasis is on expressing the main functions and people-flows of the building, creating an architectural image that communicates strength, functionality, and frank expression of materiality. 

Revolutionary shape and layout of the church for worship: in the 1950s people came to believe that the altar should be in the middle of the worshippers, so that everyone, including the clergy, is around it – putting God at the centre. This church is held to be the first in the UK that truly put these principles into practice, leading the way churches would come to be designed.

Follow the brick path to your right

2.  The display shows some of the history of this church.  St Paul’s Church was built to replace the previous building destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.  The architect and designer, Robert Maguire and Keith Murray, were both in the in their 20s, and worked with the vicar at the time to create this unusual building. 

The feeling in London after WW2 was one of reconstruction and hope, and the church needed to be forward-looking and daring.

The inspiration for the building came from the local parishioners here in Bow Common, who responded to the new vision of Eucharistic worship, inclusive of the whole people of God. 

Robert Maguire, the architect, said in 2010, “You are doing wonderful things in this building… being centred on flexibility for worship, it turns out, to my great joy, to be flexible for many other things that build trust and grow true communities”.

Continue anti-clockwise around the church past the organ console towards the bell ropes.  

3. Look up and see the mosaics, The Angels of the Heavenly Host by Charles Lutyens 1963 – 1968.  Haloed, winged and clad in white, the angels raise their hands in worship.  The mosaic forms a continuous image around the central space of the church.  It is made of 800 square feet of “smalti tesserae” imported from Murano near Venice, where the colours have been manufactured to secret recipes for hundreds of years.

Charles Lutyens, the artist, chose colours from the half-light of early morning or evening. The corner panels represent the elements, earth, air, fire and water which reach back into the Creation.  Closest to the font is fire, and the other three corner panels recall bird, fish and beast.

Notice the minimum of division between the clergy and the people.  The two steps at the altar are enough to make the priest visible.

Continue around the church

4. to the Blessed Sacrament chapel.  

you will see the early Christian symbol of a large anchor, carved by Ralph Beyer, who also carved the porch lettering. 

The brick path provides a route for the congregation to process on special occasions.

Follow the path again

5. to the Lady Chapel. 

If you wish, you may say a prayer and light a candle.  


6. to the octagonal concrete font.  Imagine how, when filled with water, placing the font near the door reflects the light from the lantern. 
This shows that Baptism is the way to enter the church.  

Thank you for visiting

If you would like to make a donation to support the upkeep of this significant building, follow this link
Cash and card donations are also welcome. 
We are fundraising for urgent electrical rewiring and to restore the font cover.

Thank you for your donations

If you would like to write something in our visitors’ book please go ahead.  We appreciate your comments. 

Exit through the porch to finish the tour outside:

7.  Outside the church, the lettering over the octagonal porch is by Ralph Beyer and quotes from Genesis 28:17, the biblical image of Jacob’s Ladder, with angels ascending a link between Heaven and Earth.  Beyer, recognised for developing lettering from a craft tradition into an art form, handcrafted each letter and imprinted each in the wet concrete. 

Thank for your visit and do come again.  We worship together every Sunday at 10am.