by Robert Nemeth
The interior of St Mary’s Church, at the foot of Upper Rock Gardens in Kemp Town, brings together Byzantine, Classical, Gothic and what I interpreted as medieval details. A visit from me to the ‘Cathedral of Kemp Town’ was well overdue.
The church’s roof consists of 27 different slopes, I was told by Churchwarden Katherine Prior. The red-brick Grade II* listed building appears large from the outside but even more so within, perhaps because it is set into a steep hill.
St Mary’s is the second church on the site. The first, dating from 1827, was a Neo-classical take on the Temple of Nemesis. It fell down in 1876. St Mary’s opened in 1878 to the designs of architect William Emerson. A clock tower was planned but never completed (a similar story to that of All Saints and St Patrick’s in Hove).
The baptistry takes influence from ancient Byzantium. High above, the capitals on the top of huge columns are Classical; the vaulting throughout is Gothic. The chandeliers have a medieval feel. The best view is from the organ loft above which looks down onto the altar.
The appearance of the church changes throughout the day as the sun graces different stained-glass windows. Two caught my attention. The first, dating from 1906 and showing St John and St Mary before the Crucifixion, is by Charles Eamer Kempe, a famous glass maker and the youngest son of a cousin of Thomas Kemp, the developer of Kemp Town. The second, ‘The Tempest’, used fragments of an earlier window that was destroyed during the Great Storm of 1987.
St Mary’s was recently granted Heritage Lottery Funding for investigative work in advance of a large restoration project. A visit during Brighton Fringe or on their open day on 5th July is well worth considering.