Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life of C.S. Lewis, Part III, St. Mark's Church, Holywood Road - page1


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From the Fall 2016 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

Surprised by Belfast: Significant Sites in the Life
of C.S. Lewis, Part III, St. Mark's Church, Holywood Road

by Sandy Smith
Author of C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth

n this article, I turn to St. Mark’s Church in East Belfast, significant in the life of the Lewis family and their more distant relatives, the Ewart and Hamilton families. C.S. Lewis’s grandfather, the Rev. Thomas R. Hamilton, was rector from 1878 (when the church was built) until his retirement in 1900. This church records their names at every corner on numerous plaques, the lectern, and the stained glass. It was here that C.S. (or “Jack”) Lewis was christened as an infant and confirmed (even if in disbelief) in his teenage years.

St. Mark’s Parish Church

  St. Mark’s, Dundela, is an imposing sandstone church some five miles from the center of Belfast. It was designed by William Butterfield, a famous Victorian architect closely associated with the Tractarian Movement. St. Mark’s dominates the small hill on which it is built, and its tall tower is a landmark visible from many parts of Belfast.
  The font in which Lewis and his brother, Warnie, were baptized still occupies its original position beneath St. Mark’s tall tower, as specified by Butterfield. Several features in the architecture of St. Mark’s are reflected in Jack’s writing. First I note the pattern of tiles immediately in front of the font in the tower floor. The pattern forms a series of chevrons that point along the nave of the church in the direction of the sanctuary at the east wall. Butterfield used this motif as a device to highlight the notion of direction, just as he used the tower itself. The tower is topped with a pointed roof and a spire pointing upward, while the chevrons in the floor point horizontally along the length of the church.
  The length of the church is 183 feet, the same length as the height of the tower. While the tower and spire point heavenward, the chevrons point to the cross, located on the east wall and elevated above the other significant church furnishings. In using these devises, Butterfield highlighted the notion of a journey. The idealized journey, commencing with an infant’s baptism, Butterfield depicted as terminating in one dimension at the cross, a powerful Christian symbol of sacrifice and redemption. The journey could be described using alternative words: life’s pilgrimage or voyage.
  Both of these ideas are used significantly in two of Lewis’s books: The Pilgrim’s Regress and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This terminology—pilgrimage and voyage—repeated in the context of a baptismal service for infants in St. Mark’s Church, would have influenced Jack, hearing it at baptisms; the idea would have buried itself deeply in his thinking. This leads to the question of whether there is any evidence in his writing that these ideas—of pilgrimage or a particular destination or goal at the end of life’s journey/voyage—were shaped by his presence in this Belfast congregation.


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