Harry Potter church is hit with filmmakers

WITH its bold and haunting spire and forbidding architecture it is little wonder that this Hampstead Garden Suburb church was chosen as a setting for the latest Harry Potter film.

Saint Jude-on-the-Hill has been conspicuous by its appearance in the trailer for the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the latest instalment in the long-running big-screen child wizard saga, which is currently in cinemas.

But this is not the first time the ‘Hollywood church’ has made it to the screen.

In recent years the Edwin Lutyens-designed building has served as the setting for numerous BBC dramas and historical documentaries, and even on one notable occasion for a French mineral water advert.

The Reverend Alan Walker said: “Because St Jude’s is such an extraordinary building, it creates that aura of mystery that is needed for something like Harry Potter.”

Rev Walker has not yet seen the full film, although in the weeks leading up to its release he placed a link to the trailer on the church website and saw web-traffic soar to around 1,200 visits per week.

The strangest thing about all the requests to film the church is that directors never want to depict it for what it is – a Church of England Anglican parish church.

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Rev Walker said: “We were once used as a Russian Orthodox church that had been closed by the Communists for a BBC piece about the Russian Revolution. We had Rasputin and the Red Guards running around.

“There was another BBC drama a couple of years ago with Christopher Ecclestone where we were supposed to be a Roman Catholic church. It can look that way if you point the cameras in the right direction. I think it’s a positive thing. It causes a lot of interest in the church.”

The Gallic ad director, who settled on St Jude’s as the location to film his bottled water commercial, made his choice because he was not able to find a sufficiently ‘French-looking’ church in his own country, according to Rev Walker.

“We have never been used to portray what we are – a Church of England parish church,” he said.

“We are chosen because we resemble something that we are not. It’s an unusual building. It doesn’t look like a normal parish church. Inside it is full of paintings, which is very unusual for an Anglican church. There’s a contrast between the outside and the inside of the church.

“On the outside it’s quite spiky and challenging, but on the inside it’s curved, colourful and Byzantine. It’s a monumental building – designed to be looked at from a distance.”

The vicar and his congregation have had relatively little in the way of dealings with famous directors and actors on set – once the film crews are up and filming they tend to leave them to it. Once it did cause a bit of a stir when an old fire engine was wheeled out to create a rain effect for a scene in Harry Potter.

The Suburb was designed to centre on St Jude’s – in imitation of a town from the Middle Ages where none of the surrounding buildings compete with the church for size.

Building on Saint Jude’s began in 1909, but the west end was not completed until 1935.

The church was consecrated on May 7, 1911. It is 200 feet long and the spire is 178 feet tall.