1. If you enter Saint Luke’s from the WEST END and stand at the top of the steps, the view before you may be a surprise. This building has stood here for over one hundred years. For all that time it’s been a centre of worship and Christian witness. The outside of the church, with what some might consider to be austere red brick, gives no hint of the colour and beauty within. We hope this short guide will enable you to explore Saint Luke’s and find out something about its history.
2. THE FONT – As you come down the steps and past the north porch which we use as the main church entrance, turn left into the North Aisle. Here, in its traditional place near the church door you’ll find the Font. This was given by the children of the Sunday School in 1909. It’s recorded that in 1903, four hundred children from this area were attending Sunday School at the temporary mission church. This might explain why they were able to afford such a generous gift for their new church building. Behind the font is a Victorian oil painting (now in need of cleaning and restoration) by Fred Roe RA, depicting the Baptism of the first Prince of Wales. Baptisms (or Christenings) are carried out here, sometimes during the main Sunday Mass and sometimes after it. We always welcome those families who come to us for this purpose!
Notice the PASCHAL (or EASTER) CANDLE. A new candle is blessed and lit each year on Easter Eve or on Easter Sunday morning. It reminds us that Christ is the Light of the World and our guide through life. The Paschal Candle is lit each time someone is Baptised here and each child’s baptismal candle is lit from its flame. It’s also the candle placed by the coffin at a funeral, as a reminder that we too will one day share in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
3. STATIONS OF THE CROSS – As you continue along the North Aisle, notice the sequence of 14 pictures round the walls. These are thought to be Edwardian prints dating back to the opening of the church.
They illustrate scenes from Christ’s journey to Golgotha and his death on the cross. On several occasions during Lent a short devotional service is held, walking round the church. We stop at each picture for a short meditation and prayer centred on the events of Holy Week. Hence the word “stations” – which means” stopping places”.
4. OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM – Still in the North Aisle, on a right hand pillar, is a small statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. This is a copy of the image from the famous Shrine in Walsingham, Norfolk, which has been a centre of Pilgrimage since medieval times. You may light a candle and say a prayer here. (N.B. This statue has been replaced by a fine wooden carving of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham – with a new and larger statue – has been placed opposite the main door of the Church, so that it’s visible as soon as you come in.)
5. SAINT JOSEPH – At the next pillar is Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was a carpenter and is depicted holding his woodworking tools – perhaps an appropriate saint in a church built for dockyard workers!
The epistles of Paul are generally regarded as the oldest extant Christian writings. These mention Jesus’ mother (without naming her), but don’t refer to his father – other than God (Romans 15:26 etc.). The gospel generally assumed to be the first written, that of Mark, also doesn’t mention Jesus’ father. Joseph first appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, generally regarded as later than Mark. Luke names Joseph’s father as Heli and Matthew names his father as Jacob, which parallels the Old Testament Joseph (whose father was also named Jacob) and is in keeping with that gospel’s depiction of Jesus as a second Moses. This theme is developed further in the infancy narratives, which, like the genealogies, have the function of establishing Jesus as the promised Messiah, the descendant of David, born in Bethlehem.
In Luke, Joseph already lives in Nazareth, and Jesus is born in Bethlehem because Joseph and Mary have to travel there to be counted in a census. Subsequently, Jesus was born there. Luke’s account makes no mention of angels and dreams, the Massacre of the Innocents, or of a visit to Egypt.
The last time Joseph appears in person in any Gospel is the story of the Passover visit to the Temple, in Jerusalem when Jesus is 12 years old, found only in Luke. No mention is made of him thereafter. The story emphasises Jesus’ awareness of his coming mission: here Jesus speaks to his parents (both of them) of “my father,” meaning God, but they fail to understand.
6. BLESSED VIRGIN MARY – At the end of the North Aisle is a fine figure of Mary holding the Christ-child. Here you can pause to light candles and say a prayer. Mary is traditionally honoured by the church. She’s most important in God’s plan for the world, being especially chosen by Him to be the mother of Jesus. She always points the way to our Lord Jesus Chris. We venerate her, but we don’t worship her.
7. LADY CHAPEL – dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is where most weekday services are held. Notice the Tester or Baldachino above the altar depicting the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the mother of Jesus.This is believed to have been designed by the great 20th century church architect, Sir Ninian Comper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninian_Comper).
In the corner is a carved wooden image of Mary. It was once possibly part of a rood screen, which used to divide the Nave of a church from the Chancel. (Rood is an old word for the cross.) The cross and candles on the altar are also thought to have been designed by Comper. Look up at the stained glass window above the altar. This was given by the Guild of Willing Workers in 1919 as a thankoffering for peace after The Great War. It shows Our Lady as Queen of Heaven, in the centre, with the Wedding at Cana and the crucifixion on either side. The small window on the left features the Annunciation with the Angel Gabriel above.
8. THE BLESSED SACRAMENT CHAPEL is to be found in the Sanctuary, behind the High Altar. This chapel was created when the Sanctuary was re-ordered in the 1920s. The ornate baroque furnishings are continental in origin. Behind the altar, in a special wall cupboard called an Aumbry, or Tabernacle, some of the consecrated bread from the Mass is kept. It’s from this that the chapel gets its name. The bread is reserved for the priest to take to the sick or dying in an emergency. It’s a special place of prayer and devotion, for we believe that Christ is here in his sacramental presence and a white lamp burns continually to remind us of this.
9. THE SANCTUARY – As in so many churches, changing liturgical fashion down the years has dictated much alteration in this area. In 1909 when the church was consecrated, the High Altar stood against the east wall.
There were altar rails dividing the Sanctuary from the Chancel, where the curtains now hang. On each side of the altar there were choir stalls. The panels on the High Altar were probably painted locally. The centre one depicts worship in heaven and the panels each side contain figures from the Old and New Covenant. The six altar candlesticks are continental and the crucifix was made especially to match. The brick and stone flooring was designed, it is believed, by the famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, brother of Canon William Lutyens (Vicar from 1914 to 1930). The curvilinear design is believed to be inspired by knots (as in rope), linking it to the dockyard, ships and sailing. These patterns had and have a practical use too, for they provided markers for the movements of the priest and servers during the liturgy when the High Altar was in regular use.
The original altar was in continual use until 1990, when a new style of worship was introduced. We still use the High Altar for the traditional Book of Common Prayer Communion Service. A free-standing altar was placed in the centre of the Sanctuary, allowing the priest to stand behind it, facing the people at the Mass, or in front should he decide to say Mass facing eastward. High above, on the east wall, hangs an attractive round picture (Tondo) of the Madonna enthroned with two Saints. This is a copy of a Renaissance painting attributed to Perugino.
10. HOLY SOULS or REQUIEM CHAPEL – This is to be found at the east end of the South Aisle. Here a monthly Requiem Mass for the departed is said. Near the altar is our memorial book and all those named in it are remembered on the anniversary of their death at our daily services. The painted reredos, or screen, originally stood against the east wall behind the High Altar. In 1926 it was moved to its present position and made into the parish’s First World War Memorial. It then stood against the pipe organ, which was removed and sold in the 1990s, thus making room for this chapel. The parish’s Second World War Memorial is actually in the form of an Altar Book, in which the names of those from the parish who died are inscribed. A facsimile of the memorial page from the Altar Book hangs on the Chapel wall above the memorial book.
11. LECTERN and PULPIT – As you face the Sanctuary, you see a simple wooden LECTERN on the right and a matching PULPIT on the left. These are of the same height, perhaps to show that the Word of God read from the lectern is of equal importance to the preaching of the Word from the pulpit!
12. STAINED GLASS WINDOWS – Looking to the extreme right and left at this point, you can see two small stained glass windows; one depicts Saint LUKE and the other Saint MARK. These windows remind us that when the church was built, the parish of Saint Luke’s was carved out of the original parish of Saint Mark’s, the church in Gillingham High Street. This church may have been dedicated to Saint Luke simply because his gospel follows that of Saint Mark in the New Testament.
13. OUR PATRON SAINT, SAINT LUKE – next to a pillar in the South Aisle stands a statue of our patron saint. Saint Luke was a doctor and a gospel writer. He’s depicted holding a quill pen with a book and beside him is his symbolic animal, the ox (meaning sacrifice). This statue was made by a woodcarver especially for Saint Luke’s. The parish commissioned it from Oberammergau (in Bavaria) whilst on a pilgrimage to see the famous Passion Play in 1960. We always place flowers before our Patron Saint and there’s the opportunity to light a candle and ask Saint Luke to pray for us too.
14. CONFESSIONAL – at the end of the South Aisle is a confessional, where people confess their sins to a priest and ask for God’s forgiveness. It’s still used occasionally, although Confession is mostly conducted in a more informal way, with the penitent talking to the priest face to face.
15. CHILDREN’S AREA – you’ll notice that some pews at this end of the nave have been re-arranged to form a ‘safe’ area for parents with small children. Families can see what’s going on at the altar and take their part in the service, without being relegated to a remote part of the church.
We’re now back at the WEST END of the Church and you may well think that this part of the building isn’t exactly well-used. It never has been since it was built in the 1920s. We hope that in the not-too-distant future it may be possible to discreetly screen this area off, levelling it out and provide more secular uses for it. Watch this space…! This area does contain notice-boards giving general parish information, news of our link missionaries (Lisa and Orlando Muerasse) in Mozambique, and the latest from the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Come and have a look.