Notre Dame de France

Corfiato’s church is important as an advanced design showing the influence of the Liturgical Movement, and as a showcase of Art Sacré, notably the murals in the Lady Chapel by Jean Cocteau.

About this church

The church stands on the site of Leicester House, built in the 1630s for the first Earl of Leicester. It lies to the north of Leicester Square, laid out in 1670 by the second Earl, and originally called Leicester Fields. Leicester House was demolished in about 1790 and Leicester Place laid out across the site. Here was constructed in 1793-94 from designs by Robert Mitchell a large rotunda, used as a diorama. In 1865 this building and two adjoining houses were acquired by Père Charles Faure, of the Marist Fathers, for use as a church for the French Catholics population of London. The diorama was converted to a church in 1865-68 by the French architect Louis Auguste Boileau, and was notable for its iron construction (Boileau later worked with Gustave Eiffel). The church was opened on 11 June 1868. The church was of Greek cross plan, formed within the circular shell of Mitchell’s diorama. Its chief internal furnishing was the statue of Our Lady on the altar of Notre Dame des Victoires, a copy of a statue in the Paris church of that name.

In 1940 Boileau’s church suffered from bomb damage, but was repaired in the following year by architects Hall, Easton & Robertson. The statue of Our Lady of Victories was destroyed, but the head was salvaged and parachuted into France in 1942, where it was restored and incorporated in a new figure by the sculptor Henri Vallette (1891-1962), returning to London in 1945.

In the early 1950s, a decision was taken to rebuild the church. With the encouragement of the Cultural Attaché René Varin, this was to become a showcase of Art Sacré, or modern French sacred Catholic art of a generally left-leaning and progressive sort which sought to legitimise artistic Modernism, particularly after its denunciation by Pope Pius XI in 1932. The foundation stone (brought from Chartres Cathedral) was laid on 31 May 1953, and the church was opened on 6 October 1955. Like its predecessor, the new church was circular on plan with twelve Doric columns supporting a domed roof, and with an ambulatory and galleries around the central space.

Artists employed in the fitting out of the new church included the Benedictine monk Dom Robert de Chaumac (1907-1977), who designed the large tapestry behind the altar on the theme of Paradise on earth, woven in Aubusson (1954); Professor Georges-Laurent Saupique (1889-1961) and his students at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, responsible for sculpture and other carved stonework on the exterior (1953); the Russian-born artist Boris Anrep (1863-1969), an altar front with a mosaic of the Nativity, covered for many years and only recently revealed (dating from 1954, i.e. before his major work at Westminster Cathedral); and, most famous of all, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), a friend of Dom Robert’s, who painted the murals in the Lady Chapel between 3 and 11 November 1959. These are Cocteau’s only murals in the United Kingdom. They are divided into three panels, depicting the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. The murals are simplified line drawings, with sparing use of colour. Cocteau included a portrait of himself in the Crucifixion scene.

Key Features

  • Captivating architecture
  • Spectacular stained glass
  • Magnificent memorials
  • Glorious furnishings
  • Enchanting atmosphere
  • Social heritage stories
  • National heritage here
  • Famous connections

Visitors information

  • Bus stop within 100m
  • Train station within 250m
  • Level access to the main areas
  • On street parking at church
  • Parking within 250m
  • Accessible toilets in church
  • Non-accessible toilets in church
  • Accessible toilets nearby
  • Café in church
  • Café within 500m
  • Dog friendly
  • Walkers & cyclists welcome
  • Space to secure your bike
  • Church shop or souvenirs

Other nearby churches

St Anne

Consecrated in 1686 by Bishop Henry Compton (after whom Old Compton St is named) the original church was designed by William Talman, who worked under Sir Christopher Wren. In December 2016 our redesigned entrance, featuring our name in neon lights, was dedicated by the Bishop of London to ensure the church remains a visible presence in the community it serves.

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St Martin in the Fields

In 1542 Henry VIII rebuilt the church already on this site to keep plague victims from being carried through his palace grounds because at the time it was an isolated spot in the fields.

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