Where can you find work by some of the best wood-carvers, architects, gilders, plasterers, carpenters, roofers, stonemasons, letterers, tile-makers, blacksmiths, lettercutters, mosaic-makers, engravers, painters, sculptors all in one place and for free? I still can't quite believe we can walk into a church and enjoy some of the most beautiful, astounding, colourful, intricate, simple, plain, austere interiors that exist. Even though I'm an atheist (and always have been), I love an open church door and am ever curious to see what's beyond it.
Today, I dropped into St Marylebone Parish Church for the first time because it was open (so many churches aren't), on my way to the Tube, and I had a few minutes to spare. It was built in 1817, has gleaming gilded angels high up around its cupola, a grand portico, lovely solid pews, a sweeping stone staircase up to the galleries, lots of plasterwork garlands and ornate decoration, a beautiful ceiling, and wonderful marble and mosaic floors.
But what I like best is something that isn't grand or spectacular or even as the original makers intended. Instead it's the simple fragments of stained glass that were collected after bombs blew out the windows and, in 1949, put back as borders around panes of plain, frosted glass. Rather than trying to make any sort of sense of the fragments, they have just been fitted in the best way possible which means there are all sorts of juxtapositions of details and even body parts (not always the right way up).
The results give a post-war modern touch to an old building, a dash of whimsy amongst the seriousness, and a childlike, illustrated storybook look in which the narrative has been jumbled up.
It must have been a great commission for whoever put together the fragments.
But then again, churches always been repositories of wonder and beauty and skill and vision. Which is why I make lots of unplanned detours.