Wren’s Ecclesiastical Architecture

Church Window Mask
Wren300 27 Oct 2023 talk image of Sir Christopher Wren and St James's Church Piccadilly

“Architecture aims at eternity”: Wren and church building a talk by William Whyte

Friday 27 October, 7pm

William Whyte presents a talk about Wren’s ecclesiastical architecture at St James’s, one of Wren’s most celebrated church buildings.

  • William Whyte is an academic historian specialising in the architecture of British churches, schools and universities.

    He is Professor of Social and Architectural History at the University of Oxford since 2014, and Vice-President of St John’s College, Oxford, since 2018. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) and of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA) William’s research has focused on the built and natural environments, and how they play into narratives about modern British and European history. He has extensively studied the architecture of schools, universities, and churches. His publications include Oxford Jackson: Architecture, Education, Status, and Style 1835–1924 (Oxford University Press, 2006), Redbrick: A Social and Architectural History of Britain’s Civic Universities (Oxford University Press, 2015), and Unlocking the Church: The Lost Secrets of Victorian Sacred Space (Oxford University Press, 2017). William has also edited or co-edited eight other books.

  • The son of a prominent priest, and almost certainly intended for the Anglican ministry himself, Christopher Wren grew up within the Church. In his long and distinguished career, he built many places of worship – including St James’s Piccadilly, which he argued should serve as a model for other churches. Yet, Wren’s own relationship to religion is somewhat mysterious and subsequent generations condemned any of his churches as essentially unchristian. This talk will explore Wren – his life, work, and reputation – and seek to show how his church buildings reflected faith.

    The talk will be introduced by Neil McGregor whose BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship in February explored the way in which Wren’s churches not only achieve beauty, but provide different sorts of spaces for diverse congregations.

    This talk is part of the Wren300, London Series: Talks explore Wren’s grandest designs across the capital.

    The talk is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Square Mile Churches and City of London Corporation