BY JOE JENKINS
EALING ABBEY, THE Abbey Church of St Benedict in west London, is to receive a £2.25 million facelift to coincide with next year's centenary celebrations.
In addition to spending £500,000 provided by a parishioner's legacy to the monks on rewiring, lighting and essential repairs to the organ loft, the Abbey plans to spend a further £1.75 million on plans drawn up by controversial architect Sir William Whitfield CBE. In consultation with the Benedictine community and the parish, Sir William has designed a self-contained chapel to hold 100, a raised choir stall, sacristy and cloisters.
Speaking to the Catholic Herald this week, Sir William stressed that his plans beyond the overhaul of practical improvements "which would bring the building into condition", would "honour the building, picking up on the character of the nave which is less extravagant in detail than other existing parts of the church".
The new features of the Abbey include a smaller chapel, positioned "liturgi cally east of the south transept".
The altar will remain under the Abbey's tower, but will be set further forward.
A raised eastern extension will house the monks' choir. "It won't dominate," Sir William said, "but it will not be lost to view".
Some basic improvements to the Monastery itself will also be phased into the scheme, but are not included in the £2.25 million cost of the other plans.
Sir William said that his drawings of "these relatively modest extensions" followed his invitation "by the comrnunity to solve its problem" and he has consulted the order "step by step to find out their needs".
Sir William is seen by the Benedictines as a very sympathetic partner in the upgrade of their church and although not a Catholic by birth he said that "it wouldn't take much of a push".
He has also redesigned Paternoster Square, by St Paul's Cathedral, and last year completed work on the new Cathedral Library at Hereford with what Perspectives on Architecture magazine described as an "innate sensitivity", defining his style as
"modernist with a traditional edge".
The Abbey was hit by two bombs during the Blitz and has never been satisfactorily completed. Rt Rev Dom Lawrence Soper OSB, Abbot of Ealing Abbey, said that to complete the original grand plans for the Abbey Church, incomplete before the War at a possible cost of £50 million would be an "unconscionable act". But more modest proposals to upgrade the church beyond mere repairs were feasible, although the order must raise a further £1.25 million to complete the work.
Fr Soper said: "The church badly needed very expensive repairs so we decided to go further and put forward a modest scheme to complete the church."
Frances Gumley-Mason, a former Editor of the Catholic Herald and a co-ordinator of Ealing Abbey Centenary Appeal, said that the new chapel is needed because of the pressure of the numbers Wanting to use the church as a meeting place and the work-load of the monks "It's very much a growing conununity," she said. "They are thinking very Benedictine, very long-term."