The style of the architecture, the form of this church, harks back many, many centuries to the very first specifically Christian churches of the Romanesque period in Europe – by that I mean the fourth and fifth century A.D. For it was not until then that Christendom had become sufficiently powerful and widespread to have generated and developed a style of building for worship that could be called unique. That style was called the “Basilica”.
The Christian basilica is basically a long rectangular barn, based on the already refined form of temple that the Greeks had perfected in ancient times and which the Romans had copied, a rectangle with a pitched roof and columns all round it. You came in at one end, where there are usually different doorways, and you faced the front. The action all happened up at the alter end, and whether you sat or wandered about, this was the basic format.
It was adapted over the centuries, got bigger and wider by various devices that I won’t bore you with now, and gained more and more elaborate features to add to their prominence within a city and to show off the Church’s ever increasing wealth and power. But the form has stayed very much the same and it is very functional. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London has this form, although you can hardly see it any more, and every little and great parish church in the world often has it too.
And as I said, St. George’s is a classic illustration of this. It is rather like a great big barn! It has the elegance and the feeling for function of a barn – simple and very robust – and yet at the same time, because of its echoing of the classic Basilican shape, its details and its position, it has a clearly sacred aspect. The throwbacks to the temple shape are still there – the end-to-end symmetry, the pitched roof with the triangular gables at each end, the columns in the arches down each side and on each end, the distinct feel of an entrance at one end and an altar at the other – all that the Greeks had three and a half thousand years ago. The exact style is difficult to define. Some people think it has a Spanish or Moroccan feel to it, which I suppose is true, especially with its tiled roof. The arches in some ways are very Italian.
I love the building very much – I’m sure we all do, for all kinds of reasons and for all the memories that it holds. As an architect, I love its space and its airiness, and the fact that it is so much of a really honest building, and so very beautifully built. By that I mean that nothing is covered up with fake panels or pretend surfaces that hide how a building is really made – what you see is what it is!