Byzantium was originally the name of an ancient Greek city that became the title of the eastern Roman Empire.
In the year 330, Byzantium was chosen as the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire). The emperor Constantine the Great changed its name to Constantinople (and today the city is called Istanbul).
Over the following centuries, a new architectural style emerged characterised by rich mosaics and high-rising domes. The style spread and original examples can still be found in places like Rome and Ravenna.
At the edge of the western Roman Empire, Britain never saw the major influence of Byzantium, but the style finally made an unexpected mark in the 19th century as part of a mini-revival across Europe.
Here are some of the examples you can find in England.
Westminster Cathedral, London
The most ambitious Byzantine-style building in England is Westminster Cathedral.
Built between 1895 and 1903, architect John Francis Bentley designed the cathedral in the early Christian style. For Roman Catholics, the Byzantine style was seen as an alternative to the Gothic, favoured by Anglicans (Church of England).
By returning to the early Christian style still seen in Rome, Ravenna and Istanbul, Catholics suggested they had a longer history than the Anglicans.
Christ Church, Brixton, London
You might think that the design of Westminster Cathedral would have influenced many churches across England, but the only notable example is Christ Church in Brixton, which shares significant stylistic similarities.
The church was built in 1907 and is one of the best examples of the work of architect Beresford Pite. It’s made of red and yellow brick in bands and features a dome over the centre.
Saint Sophia’s, Moscow Road, London
Santa Sophia in Bayswater is perhaps the most stunning example of a Victorian building in the Byzantine style.
The cathedral was designed by John Oldrid Scott and built between 1878 and 1879. It’s inspired by the mother church of Orthodox Christianity, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and features lavish use of marble, mosaic and terrazzo.
The cathedral was the fifth Greek church in London, built for a growing Greek community who lived in the new west London suburbs of Paddington, Bayswater and Notting Hill. In 1922, it became a Greek Orthodox Cathedral and the seat of the bishop of Thyateira.
Crystal Palace Subway, London
When the Crystal Palace in Sydenham opened in 1854, it drew an average of two million visitors annually. Railway companies sought to capitalise on this potential, opening a new station in 1865.
The adjoining subway is a striking Byzantine-style construction, with dramatic fan vaults in red and cream brickwork. It’s said to have been built by Italian cathedral bricklayers and was intended as an exciting prelude to the Palace itself.
After the Crystal Palace was destroyed in 1936, the subway became one of the few surviving related structures.
The Church of Jesus Christ and the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood
This church in the village of Lower Kingswood in Surrey is an unlikely building in an unlikely location.
Designed by architect Sidney Barnsley and built between 1890 and 1892, the church is somewhat based on the 4th-century Church of St Irene in Istanbul. The interior features a beautiful mosaic apse with an ostrich egg suspended in front of it.
The church has been interpreted as an Arts and Crafts response to the Byzantine style, as opposed to that used by Bentley at Westminster Cathedral.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the ‘Bristol Byzantine’ movement.
The term was coined by the architectural historian John Summerson to describe several industrial buildings built in Bristol during the 19th century, reflecting the city’s mercantile and seafaring traditions.
The Granary is considered the finest example, although its beautiful arches share more in common with Gothic and Moorish architecture than the early Christians.
The Carriage Works and Gardiner’s Warehouse are also part of the movement.
Ilkeston School, Ilkeston
Although not Byzantine by design, the grammar school in Ilkeston features an octagonal hall with a domed roof, reminiscent of an early Byzantine basicalla.
Architect George Widdows designed the school between 1911 and 1914 following an extended cruise around Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean. The results are a combination of Byzantine, Islamic and Moorish influences.
St John the Baptist Church, Rochdale
Henry Chipp, the Catholic priest in Rochdale from 1897 to 1936, presided over the building of the St John the Baptist church.
Inspired by the example of Westminster Cathedral, he wanted a new church in the Byzantine style of the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
The sanctuary is completely covered in a mosaic scheme designed by Eric Newton, a mosaic craftsman 1914 known to have studied early Byzantine mosaics in Venice, Ravenna and Rome.
Let us know where else you’ve seen examples of Byzantine architecture in England in the comments below.
Regarding Bristol Byzantine, there are also some houses in the harbour that partake of the style, and the miniature Doge’s palace at the top of Wills Road is surely an example too.
The Crystal Palace Subway would be a great addition to this list.
Great suggestion, we’ve updated the blog
St John’s church Rochdale
Great suggestion, we’ve updated the blog
who wrote this?
This was written by Jack in our content team.
Oxford is full of Byzantine(sque) architecture, with Keble College Chapel probably the most spectacular example. But also, perhaps more surprising, the church St George in Jesmond, Newcastle, is a complete and recently restored striking Byzantium inspired building https://www.stgeorgesjesmond.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Exploring-St-Georges-2018.pdf
Henrike I found your comment very interesting in that I know St George’s Jesmond well and have never considered it, or heard it described as, Byzantine.
St Peter`s RC Church in Ludlow. Built with local Dhustone
Serbian Orthodox Church in Bournville, Birmingham
Saint Dunstan, (formerly St Osmund), Pearlstone, Poole. Built in the Arts & Crafts Free Byzantine style, Grade ll* listed on your list. http://www.saint-dunstan.org
Holy Cross RC Church, Bedminster, Bristol is Bristol Byzantine reflection of Westminster Cathedral. It is currently closed. I understand that structural damage, possibly caused by flooding in the 1960s, is threatening it’s future. £160K is needed to save it and an appeal has been launched..
a number of RC churches by John Sidney Brocklesby (1879-1955) have something of a Byzantine look to them. Starting with St Augustine’s Woodborough Road Nottingham (1920-23) there are two in Stoke on Trent (Burslem and Tunstall, built as rivals to each other in the mid 1920s) and St Oswald and St Edmund Arrowsmith, Ashton in Makerfield (1928, with glass by Harry Clarke of Dublin), all – thanks to your good selves – now.listed.
The octagonal chapel at Cliveden (NT) is Byzantine.
The chapel of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is Byzantine.
So is St. Bartholomew’s Church, Oxford.
Thanks for the article.
You missed the Greek Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, Toxteth
Suggest you look at Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Prince Lazar in Birmingham in Bournville, I think. Or does this not count since it’s a church from that culture, historically? Absolutely amazing.
St Mary’s Church, Wreay, Cumbria deserves a mention here. Created and designed by an amazing Victorian woman Sarah Losh, 1840-42. Although described as being based on the form of a Roman basilica, its semi-circular apse with domed roof is very much along Byzantine lines.
The Greek church in Harrow.
It would be great if you could add the Lantern Methodist Church, Raynes Park, London.
I would suggest the Chapel within King’s College London, Strand building, Grade I listed. The chapel was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott in the Normano-Byzantine style (as per the listing). I went to King’s and loved this place. I still visit when I can.
Would love to see that Cathedral on Moscow Road sometime.
St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Liverpool
How about Fairhaven United Reformed Church, Lytham St Annes (“the white church” on the Fylde) by Briggs Wolstenholme and Thornley c1911?
Hi! Two cases from the Midlands:
the church of St. Nicholas in. Liverpool which takes the Vega kilise camii in Istanbul (former Byzantine church) for inspiration. See here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_Orthodox_Church_of_St_Nicholas,_Toxteth
Another is the Main hall of the University of Birmingham
St Nicholas Church, Liverpool.
Serbian orthodox Church of the Holy prince Lazar
Bournville , Birmingham
What about Fullwell Cross Library in Barkingside? This was by the British Modernist architect Frederick Gibberd but if you see the dome design with the curved arches supporting, it looks very Byzantine influenced
What about St Mary Undercroft within the Palace of Westminster. It’s kind of a mix of Pugin and Byzantine.
Droitwich has a hidden gem…
http://www.fitzroviachapel.org/ has a wonderful mosaic interior in late 19c Byzantine revival style and now has very interesting exhibitions, so is easy to visit. Shout out, too, for the once ultra-trendy Criterion resto in Piccadilly Circus, with its killer mosaic ceiling https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterion_Restaurant
Why not include these two Byzantine revival churches:
St Mary & St Nicholas, Wilton, Wiltshire
St James, Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire ?