Perched on Edge Hill is a huge, striking church from which you can see right across the the valley over the London Borough of Merton. Formidable in its Neo-Gothic splendour, the church provides an amazing focal point for local Catholics. The church sits magnificently exposed in its garden, which isn't huge, but does allow them to grow daffodils for children to give out to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Sacred Heart is quite simply stunning.
Opened in 1887, under commission from Edith Arendrup, the church was design to foster a Catholic community in Wimbledon, which was otherwise not known for its dense Catholic population. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) came in to run the parish, and served it for over 130 years until 2014. Arendrup was part of the Courtauld family, responsible for the Courtault institute, so one would hardly expect the church to be less than architecturally fabulous.
The parish is now enormous and flourishing, one of the largest in the country. There are several schools associated with it, including Sacred Heart Primary School, Wimbledon College, Donhead, the Ursuline Prep School and Ursuline High School. It's a great example of how a community can grow, spread and act as a force for good in the area.
This immense, beautiful church has undergone quite substantial changes though. In 1990 a new High Altar was built, much further forward than the old one, which reduced the capacity of the church. It's still vast and impressive though. A bronze reliquary was added containing relics of St Thomas More and St Edmund Campion, two key British Catholic saints.
The front of the church was supposed to have one large tower, but a lack of money meant that twin turrets and a grand window were built instead, but that gives it a really distinctive frontage. A small side chapel contains the life of Ignatius in paintings as well as commemorative plaques to important people in the church's history. This was paid for by Caroline Currie, who is remembered by a medallion in the chapel.
Art plays a key role in this church, with beautiful statues, and richly painted stations of the cross paintings around the walls. At the back a variety of small shrines and candle stands offer space for private prayer and reflection. These include a pieta statue, bits of the marble rubbed shiny by generations of worshippers.
The presbytery is also impressive, a modern rabbit warren hidden behind the main church. You can buy a small range of Catholic books and merchandise there as well as contacting a priest. The large modern hall has been recently refurbished and offers a great space for meetings and parties, as well as Masses. The church is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a devotion which takes Christ's physical heart as a representation of divine love. As the spiritual heart of Wimbledon, there is always lots on, with high-powered talks, a range of youth activities, and constant prayer in a variety of forms including regular adoration and rosary sessions to complement daily Mass.
There's a small car park, but you're best off trying to visit on foot. It's easily reachable by train (from Raynes Park or Wimbledon statues) or a range of buses which run along the Ridgeway or Worple Road, either end of Edge Hill.
Whether or not you're religious, it's worth visiting the church for its architectural magnificence, and its peace and calm.