The original St Clare’s with its familiar ‘Nissan Hut’ shape began life as a Parish Hall built in 1966 to cater for the people re-housed by the GLC in Aylesbury during the sixties, and it brought together the Catholics of Quarrendon and Elmhurst – some of these parishioners still remain members of the church, as do their children and grandchildren.
During the nineteen sixties and early seventies, when Father Grace was in residence, the Hall was used as a church on Sundays (with a temporary altar being set up every Saturday evening), for dances on Saturday evenings, youth meetings on Friday evenings and even for Bingo after the 6.30pm Mass on Sunday.
In the nineteen eighties a Chapel was built on the side of the Hall, seating about 20 people and this was used for daily Mass. When Bishop Francis Thomas visited Aylesbury he suggested that the temporary altar be replaced with a permanent sanctuary and altar in the main hall where the stage had stood.
Sadly over the years the old church building failed to stand the test of time, and became in a very bad state of repair. The roof started leaking over fifteen years ago, and it became a battle to keep the place dry with no sooner one leak being repaired than another one appearing. This also gave rise to the added danger of water getting into the electric wiring. The old church would not have stood another winter!
From 1974 Greenhalgh and Williams became involved in drawing up a number of plans for a new church but it was not until after Fr John arrived in Aylesbury in 1999 that discussions began on what was to be the design for the New St Clare’s Church. These discussions were to formulate a brief for the church which was opened on the 30th November 2005 by the Right Reverend Peter Doyle Bishop of Northampton.
On one hand the emerging brief called for seating for 180, future development, shared meeting space with sacristy, toilets and kitchen, sacristies, confessionals, boiler rooms, car parking, etc., while on the other hand a church that was approachable, calm, warm and welcoming was required. Father John Beirne, wanted to have a “monastic feel” to the building delivered in a modern way, tamed naturally by cost, time and technical restraints.
The plan of the church aims to reconcile the desire to allow a full awareness and integration of congregation with the activities taking place on the sanctuary area. The seating arrangement is wider rather deeper to create a closeness to the sanctuary area which was to remain dominant yet approachable and harmonise with the interior as a whole. The symmetry within the nave is reinforced by the crisp white piers contrasting against the rough brickwork or blockwork and by the vertically emphasised windows adjacent to the column: all positioned to draw eyes upwards towards the crucifix above the altar and onwards to the exposed roof trusses supporting the roof.
The secondary accommodation (WCs, sacristies, kitchens, etc.) has been grouped to one side, set back and resting under a series of lower roofs while the main body of the church is far more prominent, thereby reinforcing the primary purpose of the building.
Materials within the church have been expressed in as natural a way as possible with a modern crispness in their detailing. Materials and textures are in themselves important but equally important is the lighting and the way artificial light picks out these materials. Artificial light emphasises the golden brick wall to the rear of the sanctuary, the glass smooth plasterwork to some walling and the way these contrast with the rough painted block walling. The source of the light was to be as concealed as possible, the soft glow of light against the walls to be reminiscent of candlelight, a monastic feel without the visual interruptions of dangling pendants.
The golden brick wall acts as a backdrop to the sanctuary area upon which are placed the various items of furniture. The furniture design called for solidity, permanence without being visually too heavy, but primarily to compliment the building and each other. The raised dais of the sanctuary accommodates ramps for disabled access underneath and has corners cut off at 45°. Although the items are visually solid we have attempted to soften them by introducing gaps through which the wall behind can be seen. Taken from the old church are a few items such as the paschal candle holders, again octagonal, in highly polished brass to add a sparkle to the candle flame.
The building has been positioned on the site to allow for possible future phases of development. It nestles against the established trees virtually on the footprint of the old church, poking its “head” over these trees and nearby hedges to reveal its presence on the busy Aylesbury Ring Road, while being far enough back from the road to allow for easy and relaxed movement of people and vehicles within the site.
Upon leaving the church the eye is drawn to the figure of the Risen Christ above the doorway which had been safely stored since the demolition of the old church, the intention of which is to provide a sense of continuity of fellowship and worship from the old building to the new church.
THE BLESSING AND CONSECRATION
The evening of Wednesday 30th November 2005 will be remembered with thanksgiving by all who shared in that great ceremony of Blessing and Consecration of the New St Clare’s Church. The church was full to capacity; a fitting beginning to its life as the place for its people to gather in worship. Bishop Peter along with a sanctuary full of concelebrating priests ensured that this Mass would remain in the hearts of all gathered there long after the final hymn. The Choir from the local St Louis Primary School gave a beautiful rendering of the hymn ‘Give Thanks’ after Holy Communion summing up the feelings of all that had transpired in the building and consecration of this Church. Afterwards Bishop Peter spoke of the occasion as one of his most joyful undertakings since becoming our chief pastor.
RECENT ADDITIONS TO THE CHURCH
In 2009 it was decided that the front of the church would be enhanced from a crucifix being placed on the bare wall above the main door. Parishioners raised money through donations and the work was commissioned. Annette Mostyn, an Aylesbury parishioner was the sculptor of the corpus and Terence Hart-Dyke the wood carver of the cross. At a short ceremony before the 6.30pm Mass on Sunday 6th December 2009 the crucifix was blessed.