St. Pancras Parish Church and its Crypt
The crypt is guarded by a row of Caryatids; beneath their solemn gaze, great red doors of steel protect the subterranean mausoleum. The crypt is part of St. Pancras Parish Church, an iconic neoclassical structure facing onto the busy Euston Road in London. It was designed by William Henry Inwood and built at enormous expense between 1819 and 1822.
The Caryatid porches, however, were the work of an Italian sculptor, John Charles Felix Rossi, who modeled them on those of the Erechtheion temple on the Acropolis in Athens. In the early eighteen hundreds, one of the original caryatids had been removed from the ancient temple on the orders of (the infamous) Lord Elgin, and was eventually installed in The British Museum – just five minutes walk away from the church. You can read all about her on the British Museum website. Rossi’s caryatids are not carved out of marble like the Greek originals, but modelled out of terracotta, built up around cast iron columns – wonderful nineteenth century innovation again! Their monumental severity attracted some criticism at the time they
were installed, but I think their massive architectural forms are rather splendid and awe-inspiring. It is part of that confident and pragmatic nineteenth century spirit again – cast iron and engineering underpinning a shamelessly derivative and eclectic aesthetic to make a grandiose statement.
The crypt was used for burials between 1822 and 1854, and holds the remains of 557 people, many of whom had connections with the East India Company and the Colonies. The mausoleum entrances are protected by great iron doors, opened by the largest, heaviest key I have ever used – for the crypt now serves as a gallery space, and you can hire it from the church.
I decided to use this magnificent space as a fitting location for filming my steel harmonograph sculpture. The extensive labyrinth of catacombs and vaults extends beneath the entire structure of the church, offering intriguing vistas of brick-built arches from every angle.
It also just happens to be right next to Woburn Walk where my studio is located, and a short walk from another magnificent (and somewhat later) nineteenth century edifice, St. Pancras Station with its Grand Hotel, one of the primary sources of inspiration for my harmonograph design.
In my next post I will show the filming session with my collaborators, video artist and photographer Josh Jones, and a gifted young student called Julia.