As we once again say goodbye to the biggest celebration in the Christian calendar, our thoughts turn to the next set of UK notable dates, not just for Christians but for the many other faiths celebrated in our borough.
Harrow’s skyline alone is testament to the range and diversity of faiths celebrated within it – from the magnificent St Mary’s Church which overlooks the centre of Harrow to the lighthouse (or Goldaste) of the Harrow Central Mosque. Statistically, Harrow is the most religiously diverse borough in the whole of the UK, something that is evident in the wide range of events held throughout the year. It’s little wonder then that Harrow is home to some of the most beautiful churches and places of worship in the country. Arguably the focal point of the town centre, St Marys Church which was consecrated in 1094 and is now Church Of England, is built on an old place of pagan worship, which was an attempt to convert non-believers to the Christian cause.
The Kenton United Synagogue, also known as “The Shul In The Park”, although a largely unassuming building, is set in beautiful surroundings making it an ideal place of worship for families.
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady And St Thomas Of Canterbury in Roxburgh Park, built in 1894, is a stunning white structure built in traditional 14th Century style by Architect Arthur Young.
Nestled in parkland in Hatch End is the beautiful St Anselm’s church whose neo-gothic architecture is hidden from view of the everyday world by leafy Westfield Park. Within the church, the west window incorporates a small piece of clear ruby glass brought from a shattered window in Ypres Cathedral during WWI by a chorister, who died in France a few days before the window was dedicated.
Harrow Central Mosque with its distinctive dome and spire, houses a vast and sumptuous interior offering worship and social events for Harrow’s Islamic community.
Some Harrow places of worship are, however, a little more exclusive; namely the chapel within the famous Harrow School, available only to staff, students and their families. At the point of initial design, Gilbert Scott had to get sign-off for the chapel’s plans from all the members of staff. Everyone gave his chapel their approval except for one master, William Oxenham who claimed the spire was ugly – which is why the school’s chapel, to this day, has no spire.
As well as the actual buildings, Harrow is home to some of the most tranquil and scenic cemeteries including the vast, tree-line Harrow Cemetery and the small and ancient cemetery in the grounds of St Marys on the hill, final resting place of Lord Byron’s daughter, Allegra.
With 22 churches, 12 mosques, 13 synagogues and a number of other places of worship, Harrow is very much a borough whose communities centre around its faith. Religions practiced within the borough include Christianity in many forms including protestant, catholic, baptist and united reformed as well as Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
For the most part, these are all traditional faiths which can be found in most large towns, however, our unique borough also welcomes the slightly out of the ordinary.
One of the more unusual places of worship in Harrow can be found in a former cinema in a 1930s art deco building on Alexandra Avenue and is home to the Harrow branch of Zoroastrianism. Designed and built in 1936 by Frank Ernest Bromige, a London-based architect, the former Grosvenor Cinema is a stunning piece of architecture in keeping with other 1930s structures in Rayners Lane including the tube station. For those unfamiliar with this particular religion which was followed by the late rock star, Freddie Mercury, who was raised by very religious Zoroastrian parents. it is one of the most ancient monotheistic groups known. Originating in Iran in 1500 BC, a curious aspect of the religion is that followers must promise not to convert others; a strict rule which, unfortunately, sees the numbers of followers dwindling year on year (in 2011, census data showed that there were only 4100 followers within the UK.
Based on the teachings of the prophet Zarathustra – founder of Zoroastrianism and philosopher, theologist, astrologer, alchemist and a teacher of wisdom, the name “Zarathustra” means “most beaming being / Prince / Prince of Peace”. The Zarathustran doctrine says that we need to aim our focus more on nature in order to be able to recognise God’s laws of life in this area. After all, the four elements air, water, earth and fire are believed to be sacred.
Whatever your religion, Harrow is a borough that prides itself on its diversity and, it is the different faiths, cultures and backgrounds that come together to form a place that we can be proud of.
By Nicci Rae