Discover Crouch End's very own cathedral
- Credit: courtesy of MZCE
Did you know there's a cathedral in Crouch End? The Mount Zion Cathedral, a church of the Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim.
It's splendid – large, light, bright and wonderfully well-kept. And its services are in Yoruba – a language widely spoken in south-west Nigeria and in neighbouring Benin - as well as in English.
This is Park Chapel, the old Congregational church on Crouch Hill in the heart of Crouch End. It was built in the mid-1850s, so a few year before Christ Church on Crouch End Hill, and repeatedly extended. It sports a spacious gallery and was designed to provide seating for almost 1,500 worshippers. An adjoining hall was added in the 1890s – from the street they look to be the same building – which is where Church Studios now operates.
In 1983, a Nigerian congregation bought the church part of the buildings from the animators Bob Bura and John Hardwick. It was in a poor state - an "empty thing" in the vivid description of Janet Awojobi, now Mother Seraphim and prophetess at Mount Zion. The floor was in disrepair, she recalls, there was no glass in the windows and mounds of rubbish were strewn around.
The cost of buying the building was dwarfed by the expense of making it usable. A Heritage Lottery award helped with structural repairs to the roof and with cleaning the stonework. And the church is now gleaming, with imposing wooden beams across the high ceiling giving a striped aspect to the interior.
There's splendid new stained glass and devotional art, including an eye-catching wall painting of a black Virgin Mary. In the gallery two decorated plaques survive from an earlier era, commemorating the jubilee of the church in 1905 and chronicling its development.
The Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim was founded in Nigeria in 1925 by Moses Orimolade Tunolase, whose portrait is on display at Crouch End's Mount Zion. It's one of the Aladura churches based in West Africa, which have an emphasis on prophecy. The church's founder prophesied that after forty years it would expand abroad. And that's what happened – with the establishment of the first congregation in London.
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Janet Awojobi, now in her mid-eighties, was born and married in Nigeria, and came to London in 1961. She worked as a clothes machinist; her late husband, Peter, had a job at the Post Office. Their main concern was to build the church which was so central to their lives and faith – and portraits of both, painted by their daughter Funmilayo, are prominent in the church gallery. Mother Janet, a wise and kindly figure, is now the much respected matriarch of her congregation.
Regular services are held in an ante-room of the church with space for a congregation of sixty or so. The church itself is reserved for special occasions, above all for the anniversary service on the first Sunday in October.
The ESOCS is sometimes known as the "white garments" church from the flowing white robes – and for the women, flouncy white caps too – that the choir and congregation wear. But that's not obligatory dress. And everyone's welcome. Next year, the congregation will be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary and the October service will be something quite special so, as they say, save the date.
Andrew Whitehead is the author of Curious Crouch End, which is being published by Five Leaves in November.