A brief history of the foundation of
the church and an explanation
of the two murals inside
St. Francis Parish Church
St. Francis Church was consecrated in 1960 as a daughter church of St. Mary’s, the Parish Church of Luton. The then vicar of Luton, Canon William Davison, was particularly devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and chose the dedication. The church, hall. and vicarage were all built in 11 months for what was even then the modest price of £23,000. The architect, Peter Dunham, aimed deliberately at simplicity of design, saying he wanted the church to look Like a church and not “a glorified drawing room”. He described the building as “Like a very tall tent”.
The outside mural was painted by the architect’s daughter, television actress Joanna Dunham and shows scenes from the life of St. Francis (see last page). The engraved window in the porch shows St. Alban, the first British martyr and patron saint of the Diocese of St. Albans, to which the church belongs. Also in the porch are the foundation stone, laid by the chairman of Hunting Aircraft whose works were then at Luton Airport, and a medieval stone head from St. Mary’s, a tangible piece of the mother church.
Inside, the church floor is raked to improve vision. The pulpit is decorated with the fish symbol used by early Christians as a secret sign. The initial letters of the words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” in Greek make the word “ichthys”, which means “fish”. The fish also appears on the wooden collection plates. The pillars of the communion table are faced with flint, a link with the traditional building material of the area. The large mural, entitled “To the End of Time”, was painted in 1962 by Mary Adshead. There are small consecration crosses in the top of the communion table and a larger one on the pillar by the clergy stall.
The organ was built in 1975 from the parts of the Victorian organ of Park Street Baptist Church, whose members donated it to St. Francis when their church was closed. It is a two-manual organ, built to a classical specification, with 23 speaking stops. Previously, the church had an electronic organ in the choir gallery. Near the organ is a small keyboard for the bells system. The sounds are produced by striking metal rods which are electrically amplified and broadcast from under the fleche on the roof. Nearby is a reproduction of Fra Angelico’s painting of St Francis.
The baptistry is raised and sited, unusually, halfway down the church. The traditional site for a baptistry is by the door, symbolising entry into the Christian faith, but here the whole congregation has a good view and baptism is given great prominence. The copper font, mounted in slate, was made by apprentices of Hunting Aircraft as a craft piece.
The gallery built for a choir, now gives extra seating for the congregation; the rear of the gallery was raised in 1982. Below is a small room, originally the choir vestry, now a crèche and meeting room. The sliding doors at the back of the church open into the hall, which is used to seat the overflow from the church when it is full. The sound reinforcement system, installed in 1978, enables the service to be heard in the hall and crèche
To the end of time.
This is the title which Mary Adshead has given to her painting on the Sanctuary wall of the Church, for which she was commissioned under the terms of the Edwin Austin Abbey Memorial Trust Fund for mural painting in Great Britain. In her own words: “This picture aims to give a sense of the strength and permanence of Christianity from the life of Christ to the present day. It stresses the continuity.
“I have suggested Christ Crucified and have, I hope, used the symbols of the four Evangelists is such a way as to convey their Power, Beauty and Penetration. It is through them that we have the teachings of Christ, and each Gospel is a literary work of the first order. Therefore, I have grouped them around the Cross, but bearing down on our World of today. On one side is destruction and disintegration under the Atom Bomb, and on the other the family unit midst materialism and scientific discovery, problems of our generation.”
The traditional symbols of the four Evangelists are the four living creatures of the Apocalypse: “And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: The first living creature like a Lion, the second living creature with the head of an Ox, the third living creature with the face of a Man, and the fourth living creature like a flying Eagle, and the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within.” Revelation, Ch 4 v 6-8.
The mural in the entrance hall is a smaller copy of the original which was sited on the outside by the church door and was removed to allow extension work to the church hall. The mural depicts the life of St. Francis of Assisi, after whom the church is named. The artist was Joanna Dunham, daughter of the church’s architect.
The mural shows the following scenes:
Francis renounces his life as a soldier, symbolised by the sword, and the wealth and pleasures of his family home.
Francis, haunted by pity for the poor and wretched, especially lepers, and though he shrank from them, he eventually managed to make himself embrace one.
One of the many legends of Francis’s influence over animals is that of the wolf, whom he converted to gentleness.
Above the wolf can be seen the little church where Francis founded his new order of friars. Their way of life was based on the words of Jesus in St Matthew’s Gospel, Ch.10, v7-10: “As you go proclaim the message: The Kingdom of Heaven is upon you. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out devils. You receive without cost, give without charge. Provide no gold, silver or copper to fill your purse, no pack for the road, no second coat, no shoes, no stick; the worker earns his keep”. They bound themselves to absolute poverty, hard work and, when necessary, the humility of begging.
The sun, moon, stars, water, a tree and birds, all of whom Francis called “brother” and “sister”, depict Francis’s belief that they were all created by God. Francis is also seen here preaching to the poor.
The canonization of St. Francis, two years after his death is depicted by him surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelistsists.
St. Francis Parish Church Information
For wedding, banns and baptism enquiries and for hall
bookings, please ring the Parish Office:
Telephone: (Luton 01582) 451132