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Call to Action: Conversions

06 February 2012

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Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory's church, Warwick Street, London.Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory's church, Warwick Street, London.

What a great start to a month of discovering Places of Worship! We’ve had a whole week of artistic gems – Chagall stained glass, medieval wall paintings and stunning contemporary art – all hidden away in religious places throughout the UK, but easily accessible to curious explorers.

A gig at Union Chapel. Photography by Liam Gladdy.

This week we’ll be looking at Conversions – how religious buildings adapt to changing times and the needs of their local community. The changes, renovations and transformations that places of worship undergo throughout their lifetime are simply astounding. Some take on new functions, and therefore new characters, like the Union Chapel in London – a Victorian chapel used by worshippers on Sunday mornings, a mesmerising arts venue and a homeless centre the rest of the time. Others get passed from one spiritual group to another, acquiring various make-overs along the way. Many (in London anyway) change nationalities.

24 Golden Square, London. Site of ex-chapel/ Portuguese Embassy/ Bavarian Embassy.

Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory's Church, Warwick Street, London.

One intriguing example of this switch between national identities is the Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory church in central London. Whilst it started life out as the chapel to the Portuguese Embassy in the early 18th century at 24 Golden Square, the site was later taken over by the Bavarian Embassy, leading it to be known as the Bavarian Chapel until the early 20th century. The current chapel, tightly packed into the space behind its original home, was opened in 1790, after its previous incarnation suffered extensive damage during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. Of Portuguese-Bavarian descent, it is now a proud Soho-Londoner, welcoming everyone to attend its lunch-time masses, from the LGBT community to the hurried shoppers on nearby Regent Street.  To me it is a perfect example of a place of worship moving with the times to adapt to London life. And definitely a prime candidate for the Walk the World map – a project that uncovers the international connections in your local environment.

Interior of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory's Church. Photography by Lawrence OP.

This week is your chance to tell us about the beautiful, practical and downright whimsical conversions of places of worship that you’ve discovered on your doorstep – so let us know here on the blog, on or on .

Happy exploring!

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