The forlorn churches of Brixton
ONE ON EVERY CORNER: BUT INSIDE THE OLD SUBURB’S HOLY HOUSES ARE DARK AND QUIET
Each week Marie-Lais looks out for the unusual, the unique, the downright quirky or just something or someone we might have had no idea about, even though we live here. We like to travel our own cities and their surrounds, curious to feel them out. This week it’s Seek. Pray. Unlove, across Brixton.
Brixton bristles with churches. Friend Sifiso has dissuaded Heather and I from merely visiting one, St Nicholas Orthodox, to look at Brixton’s other largely unloved, undercongregated churches. Sifiso is devising a plan for New Year’s Eve, bringing some musical love to all the churches here.
We pass the white and blue Greek Orthodox Church on our way to the New Apostolic Church in Caroline Street to start our tour. Basil is waiting for us at the gate with the keys, but leaves immediately. We can’t persuade the keys to open up. We all try. Sifiso does best, getting the likeliest key halfway when it sticks. Basil returns, apologising for giving us wrong keys. The stuck key is extricated by a lock professional.
“1905” reads Sifiso off the foundation stone. “Joburg was under British rule then, after the AngloBoer War.”
I notice, among all the crosses around, that he has a star of David on his Haile Selassie tee.
Inside is calm, creamy light, fractured windows and an old Bible given to the “Brixton Wesleyan Church” in 1916. Outside is coiled razor wire, excrement and on the right the Islamic Centre for Africa. A shopkeeper says it’s “a sort of hostel”. To the left is “the blue house drug den”.
The stone on the St Augustine’s Anglican church says Mrs Norman Anstey was there in 1913. “The time of the Land Act – blacks would have had to move from here,” announces Sifiso.
There is a big bell at the roof pitch, above barbed wire. The gate is locked but a man in a car advises us to ring a little hanging bell. His wife is inside having a piano lesson. It is cool, darker, more formal but a tumbler holds a few just-picked tulips and carnations.
We see another church that’s now a guesthouse and Sifiso drops us at the Greek church, where we also have no access. I step over a low rail to examine a charming ceramic of St Nicholas in Japan. I amble around and the alarm goes off. We wait for the security people to arrive. They don’t.