About a five minute walk from Goring-by-Sea Railway Station, concealed behind a long hedgerow, is an unassuming looking church. Clearly built in the past thirty years, the exterior’s only reference to traditional church architecture appears to be its highly pitched roof and Sussex flint stone walls. By all accounts, The Church of the English Martyrs looks like a modest public building.
This is why it comes as such a surprise to discover what is concealed within.
Walk just a few steps through the church’s welcome area, with well organised notices and news bulletins pinned to the walls, and you are transported into a captivating, and truly ambitious, maximal use of space.
After five years of painstaking work, designer Gary Bevans transformed this low-key building by decorating it with an exact copy of The Sistine Chapel ceiling – the only exact copy in the world. Following the completion of the frescoes, Bevan continued to alter the space by employing trompe l’oeil techniques. From false windows, marble effect paintwork and radiators disguised as panelling, the walls and décor were given a ‘classical’ overhaul.
The illusion is almost perfect, except for the intrusion of luminous exit signs and no-frills toilet doors, which add to the maximal effect. The visual medley continues as your eyes are drawn to the modern stain glass windows, which create abstract rippling designs on the carpeted floor – intriguingly at odds with the Renaissance style.
This idea of camouflaging, and unusual mix of old and new design, surprisingly remind me of the cloak-like white walls of Calvinist churches. The desire to entirely alter and shroud interiors is a fascinating process, and the sense of labour and determination that went into achieving such results at The Church of the English Martyrs, can be felt strongly as one walks through the space.