St. Stephen’s church is located south of the city centre, over the road from the King Harry pub.
Based on the writings of Matthew Paris, a Benedictine Monk at St Albans Abbey in the 13th century, St. Stephen’s is one of the three ancient parish churches founded in around 948AD established to serve the pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Alban.
I love the rural feel and openness of the churchyard as I walk through the gate; neat rows of rose bushes enclose the small garden of remembrance to my left. I step through the Victorian wooden porch and go into the church and linger at the back of the dark and dusky nave; the stone font before me dates back to the 14th century.
I immediately feel enwombed and as silence descends and I can no longer hear the traffic; I almost feel as if I have trespassed into a private sacred dwelling. A rib vaulted ceiling arches over my head. I realize how fortunate I am to have the place to myself and absorb the holy ambience.
The nave is carpeted in dark blue; I like the softness under my feet and the fact that I can’t hear my footsteps. I sit in the stillness admiring the dark wooden carved pews and the Victorian stained glass windows of Christ blessing little children and saints such as Saint Julian and Saint George.
I am mesmerized by the beauty of Saint Cecilia and stop to stare. The window has a gilded feel to it as the golden bodice of her gown and the gold set in the musical instruments held by angels illuminate the entire window. A roman martyr and patroness of music, St. Cecilia’s radiant complexion and blonde locks shine into the darkness.
I spot a pile of old musical scores beneath the lectern. I can feel that this church has been lived in and holds the memory of its history and congregation. I imagine all the prayers that have been offered up in this spot filling the space with peace.
Apparently little remains of the original building, and the architectural style is largely medieval with Victorian restoration. It is thought that it started out as two interconnected rooms acting as a nave and a chancel with no tower, and this still forms the main structure of the church. The Lady Chapel was added in the 13th century, a simple space with a small altar and rose window.
A decorated Oak pulpit dating from 1936 overlooks the chancel. The main altar has a triptych window depicting Christ raising Lazarus in the presence of Martha, Mary and three of the disciples; calming luminous blue skies surround the figures.
I pick up the newsletter on my way out and bump into the smiling vicar who tells me about the activities held in the adjoining halls. It’s wonderful that the church is so active within it’s community and I’m pleased to hear that after Easter, will be open to the general public everyday. Visitors are welcome.