The Church of St Martin of Tours can be
found at the north-western edge of Basildon town centre in Essex,
next to the Towngate Theatre and council offices. It is set in St
Martin's Square, which takes the form of a Sensory Garden and was
consecrated in 1962 for the new town of Basildon. Although the
contemporary exterior blended well with the new town as it emerged,
in the intervening years more modern buildings have sprung up which
date it somewhat.
Over the porch on the southern side of the church
is a wooden sculpture depicting 'Christ the King'. To the onlooker,
the sculpture may appear to depict the crucifixion, with Christ
being pierced by spears. However, it is actually depicting Christ in
glory, emanating rays of light, and serves as a dramatic entrance to
the church. Alongside the porch is a garden of remembrance, bearing
a simple memorial which provides a focus for the town on Remembrance
Some of the church's windows, which form the 'walls'
of the nave, include depictions of the cathedral at Tours - after
which the church is named - and even the Thames Flood Barrier. There
is a lovely surprise inside the nave when the sun shines through the
modern stained glass windows (designed by Joseph Nuttgens who in
1938 opened his own studios in the Chiltern Hills). In this
particular window the triangle represents the Trinity.
The Lady Chapel window represents the Blessed
Virgin Mary in heaven, depicting sun, moon, and stars, creating
a dramatic atmosphere in this small space. Behind the altar is a
brick picked out in red mortar. Buried here are some ashes brought
from the gas chambers of Auschwitz concentration camp. The church
was asked to accept them after it housed an exhibition on Auschwitz
in 1984. A candle burns continuously next to the ashes, serving as a
reminder of man's atrocity to man.
A dramatic focal point is created by the
alternative east wall (seen here). Unlike in many older churches
there is no east window; instead, there is a plain, soaring wall
with a large metal cross mounted up high. When the wall is lit, the
cross casts a shadow either side of it, to create the three crosses
associated with Christ's crucifixion. The stained glass windows -
the church's walls - replaced opaque glass some years after opening,
completing the simple, elegant design.
The thirty metre high bell tower at the west end
of the church is free-standing and is the only completely glass and
steel bell tower in the world. Although the tower was only built
in 1999, some of the bells date from the medieval period, most
notable of which is the tenor bell, cast by Joanna Hill in 1441 -
apparently the first bell in the world to have been cast by a woman.
When lit at night, the tower is an imposing feature of Basildon's
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