A beautiful house of worship
The church of St John the Divine Kennington is a magnificent expression of Christian faith in architecture. It was built during the Victorian era, by the great Gothic Revival architect George Edmund Street. Although it is over 143 old, it is a living and evolving place of worship with many interesting features which remind us of our heritage and inspire us for the future. We warmly welcome visitors to our church and hope you will enjoying exploring its beautiful architecture with the help of this guide.
Click/tap the numbers on the plan of the church to view each point of interest.
This guide also works on a smartphone such as an iPhone. Load this page on your phone when you come to visit to view points of interest around the building.
Please contact the parish office before you come to check church opening times.
The entrance to St John the Divine is by the North door on Vassal Road. In the porch, look up and you will see the Korean Icon, a large 20th-Century painting which was painted by members of the Brotherhood of St Seraphim in Walsingham, Norfolk. It commemorates the foundation of the Anglican Church in Korea in 1890 by Bishop Corfe. The work was designed in the style of an Orthodox sanctuary screen called an iconostasis, which is traditionally covered in many small icons of saints and patriarchs. The main figure in the centre is Jesus shown after His ascension into heaven, and among the Biblical, Russian and English saints you can see Bishop Corfe himself (bottom left panel) and behind him, Charles Edward Brooke.
If you look at the wall along the length of the aisles, you will see that the bricks which were used to build the church are unusually long; they were specially designed for St John the Divine to create an optical illusion, so that the nave appears to be longer than is really is. The windows on this side are all plain glass – the original stained glass was destroyed by a wartime bomb in 1941.
To the right of the north entrance there is a list of past parish priests from the foundation of the church up to the present day. The list begins with Daniel Elsdale in 1866 and Charles Edward Brooke, who followed Elsdale and remained until his death 30 years later.
The nave is particularly beautiful and light. There are five Gothic arches along each side supported by tall pillars; at the top of each pillar are decorated capitals which were carved by Thomas Earp, the same scluptor who created the Eleanor Cross outside Charing Cross Station. The high nave roof, originally decorated by George Frederick Bodley in 1890, was destroyed during the Blitz in 1941; the roof you see today is a reproduction, painted pale green with chequered ribs. Small roundels depict symbols of nature which feature in the Gospels:
- birds of the air
- lilies of the field
- fishes in a net
Under the tower is the west window, designed by Charles Eamer Kempe which depicts the City of God. It is dedicated to the memory of St J Barber and L Barber.
The church tower is 212 ft (64.6 m) high, making it the tallest tower in South London.
Roll of communicants
On the wall near the baptistry is a roll of members of this church who, over the years, travelled internationally to spread the Christian Gospel. It is headed "Go ye into the World," the command of Jesus to his disciples (Mark 16:15-16).One noteworthy name on this roll is Samuel Pollinger who travelled to Canada in 1911, later entered the priesthood and eventually became Bishop of Cariboo in 1943.
On the south wall facing the main entrance is the octagonally-shaped baptistry. This D-shaped alcove fortunately escaped any major fire damage during the Second World War bombing and contains the original screens by G.E. Street.
Further decoration was added in 1923 in memory of Daniel Elsdale, with the addition of a cover for the font, panelling and statues. Positioned around the font from left to right the statues represent:
- Jesus with three nails in his right hand
- St John the Baptist with a stave in his right hand
- St Ignatius holding a scroll
- St Agnes
- St Pancras
- Mary, Mother of Jesus, holding a book in her right hand.
Unfortunately the figures were slightly damaged by the wartime bombing, and although gold leaf has been added they cannot be painted, giving them a black colour.
The South Aisle runs from the Baptistry right up to the All Souls’ Chapel. As in the North Aisle, you can see the special elingated bricks which create an optical illusion of making the nave seem to be longer than it really is. The entrance to the Deedes Memorial Chapel is half-way along this aisle, and there are a number of ineresting artworks such as the Stations of the Cross and the large Kelham Rood sculpture.
Stations of the Cross
Around the aisles can be seen the carved wooden Stations of the Cross. They were carved between 1930 and 1958 by Mother Maribel of Wantage (1887-1970) of the Wantage Sisters who came to St John the Divine in 1871 and worked in the educational and mission fields until 1966. The Stations is a traditional form of art which tells the story of Jesus from His imprisonment up to His death. In order, they are:
- Jesus is condemned to death
- Jesus carries his cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his mother
- Simon or Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls the third time
- Jesus' clothes are taken away
- Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross
- Jesus dies on the cross
- Jesus is taken down from the cross (Deposition or Lamentation)
- Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Deedes Memorial Chapel
On the south aisle is the entrance to the Deedes Memorial Chapel, sometimes called the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This tiny chapel was designed by Sir Charles Nicholson and finished in 1920 but the work was not completed – the empty niches either side of the altar should contain angels. It serves as a memorial to Arthur Gordon Deedes who succeeded Canon Brooke as parish priest in 1911, having already worked as assistant priest for 26 years, and also as a memorial for those who died in the First World War.
South side windows
On the south side are two of the original windows by Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907); one was erected by his friends to the memory of the Rev. Douglas Hope (Priest in parish 1871-1877, died 1890), and the other by the Burial Guild in memory of its own departed members.
Statue of Mary and Jesus
Opposite the entrance to the Deedes' chapel stands a statue of Mary and Jesus carved by Mother Maribel in memory of Sister Jane of the Community of St Mary the Virgin, Wantage. In 1874 Sister Jane was the first of the Wantage Sisters to come and work with this parish.
The Kelham Rood
On the south side of the nave stands the Kelham Rood, a life-size bronze sculpture of Christ on the Cross together with free-standing figures of St John and the Virgin Mary. It is the work of sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934), who also designed the Royal Artillery Memorial in London's Hyde Park Corner, and was completed in 1929. The sculpture was originally commissioned by the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) for the Great Chapel at Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire. The sculpture then stood in the SSM Priory in Willen near Milton Keynes, before being moved to St John the Divine. It is planned to suspend the sculpture above the high altar.
All Souls’ Chapel
The All Souls' Chapel still has its original panelling which fortunately escaped destruction in the 1941 oil bomb, although oil stains can clearly be seen on the marble floor of the chapel. Only one of the original windows by C E Kempe (c. 1890) remains on the right of the chapel and show scenes following Christ's resurrection. However a new, colourful, east window (c. 1959) by W T Carter-Shapland enriches the chapel with its depiction of Christians in England throughout the ages. A piscina is mounted on the wall near the right corner of the All Souls' Chapel together with an aumbry in which the ashes of the deceased are kept prior to interment. There is a silver cross on the altar which was made from Roman stone on a wooden frame and was given to the church by the Guild of St Mary's College, Lancaster Gate, in whose chapel it formerly stood.
Sanctuary & Lady Chapel
In the sanctuary, on the east wall, is the original high altar. The reredos, given to this church by St Gabriel's College, has a paining of the adoration of the Magi. The side panels depict angels kneeling in adoration. There is a carved figure from Walsingham of Mary seated as Queen of Glory with a crown, stave of lilies, golden halo and the child Jesus seated on her left knee. Behind the altar is a set of murals painted by Brian Thomas, O.B.E. in 1966. The left-hand panel depicts the Virgin Mary and Jesus in a floral garden. A central panel is decorated with lilies and roses - traditional symbols of our Lady. The right-hand panel is a pieta, with Mary holding the body of the crucified Christ, and instead of a floral border it is framed with thorns, representing the Crown of Thorns.
The free-standing Main Altar which stands in the middle of the sanctuary is used today to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion facing the congregation. Above this are seven red sanctuary lamps, representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each one is made in the form of a crown, with three plain round bars coming down to hold the glass container. Each one is suspended from a silver ball by three silver chains. They are understood to have been donated by Canon Brooke and others.
The Brooke memorial
On the left wall of the Sanctuary is a bronze memorial to Rev. Charles Edward Brooke, who died in 1911. Canon Brooke is kneeling before a crucifix and is overshadowed in the background by an angel who supports in his hands the fruits of the tree of the Vicar's life. In the angel's left hand, Brooke is preaching and in his right hand Brooke is administering to the sick. On the branch just before the crucifix can be seen the tower of St John the Divine, and on the angel a cross of five red stones as part of the orphreys.
An organ by J W Walker & Sons was installed in 1875, but this was also destroyed in the war. The present organ was dedicated in 1948 by the Lord Bishop of Kingston and presented to the church by Viscount Hambledon. The manual is located next to the south aisle.
St James’s Chapel
The small St James Chapel is located under the organ pipes, behind the Brooke memorial. The reredos comes from the redundant church of St James the Apostle, Camberwell, Knatchbull Road, and is in memory of the first vicar of that parish John Dixon Dyke MA (1870-1914). Notice the unusual seven-branched candlesticks on the altar. The carved reredos represents St Mary and St James and contains the St James symbol of three scallop shells. In 1978 the parishes of St John the Divine and St James the Apostle were united.
The wooden pulpit was erected in memory of Edward Arthur Down who was an assistant priest of the parish for 63 years, dying in 1949.
Statue & icon of St John the Divine
Along the north aisle is a modern Bavarian carved statue of St John the Divine as an old man. He is shown making the sign of peace with his right hand and holds a book of gospels in his left hand. Standing on the book is a chalice with a snake appearing from the chalice. This symbolises the chalice of poison with which the Romans tried to kill him. A stylised eagle appears by his right foot, another symbol of St John. This is a memorial to the late Bishop of Peterborough Cyril Eastaugh, our sixth vicar. Also on the north aisle is an icon of St John the Divine which was given by George Allery. The marks on the saint's forehead are meant to represent a third eye, symbolising wisdom.