The Round Church Building

When was it built?

The round part of the church was built in about 1130 by the ‘fraternity of the Holy Sepulchre’. They were evidently influenced by the Round Church in Jerusalem; this church, called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. In fact, the Round Church is formally known as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the fraternity were Normans, recently arrived from France in 1066, they used the Norman or Romanesque style; hence the thick pillars and rounded arches.

Why is it round?

Most churches in Western Europe are cross-shaped in their floor plan and in England there are only four other round churches like this one. They were all built following the First Crusade in 1097. The round shape is thought to celebrate the resurrection, as Constantine’s church in Jerusalem was built on the site of Jesus’ tomb and resurrection.

What was it originally used for?

Initially the church was a wayfarers’ chapel serving the main Roman road, or ‘the via devana’, which passed its door. Today we call this road Bridge Street. The building then became a normal parish church in the 13th century with a proper chancel and a north aisle. The fine angel roof was carved in the 15th century.

What about the Crusades?

Whilst wishing to remind people of the Christian contribution to our culture, Christian Heritage understands that there have been lamentable inconsistencies, and, ironically, this is found in the building of the Round Church, by Crusader knights who were probably trying to promote the Crusades. This is a phenomenon which we hardly see as Christian, even if the context  was a response to a much more successful Jihad - two 'holy' wars that were most unholy. 

Has it always looked the same?

The church once had a heavy gothic tower, which was built over the round nave in the 15th century. However, this caused a partial collapse in the round ambulatory in 1841. During the extensive Victorian repair and restoration it was replaced by the spire you see today. Its conical shape reflects of a desire to be faithful to the nave’s Norman origin. The south aisle and bell tower were also added and the whole east wall rebuilt.

When was the East Window installed?

The Victorian east window was destroyed by a wartime bomb in 1942 and was replaced. The East Window now portrays a risen Christ triumphant over death and suffering. The cross is depicted as a living tree with leaves which are, appropriately, for ‘the healing of the nations (Revelation 22: 2). You can discover more about the East Window here or read about all of the stained glass windows by downloading our PDF guide.

When did the regular services stop?

In 1994 the church’s overflowing congregation moved to the much larger St Andrew the Great, just by Lion Yard. The building is now run by Christian Heritage, a charity that highlights the influence of Christianity on western culture and considers the impact of secularism.

For more on the history of this beautiful building, see the detailed article on The Victorian Web.