The photo shows three panels of chunky glass design, with vibrant red, green, yellow and blue in a black background, with a heart in the centre panel.
Detail of dalle de verre glass from Our Lady of Fatima panel with Dom Charles Norris signature pane. © Historic England Archive DP440037
Detail of dalle de verre glass from Our Lady of Fatima panel with Dom Charles Norris signature pane. © Historic England Archive DP440037

Harlow New Town Roman Catholic Church Upgraded to Grade II* Listing

The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Harlow has been upgraded to Grade II* by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

An important British architect

The church was designed between 1953 and 1954 by Gerard Goalen (1918 to 1999), one of the most important British architects of the Roman Catholic Modernist movement, in his first ecclesiastical commission.

Goalen was recommended as the parish church’s designer by Sir Frederick Gibberd (1908 to 1990), who was the master planner and chief architect of Harlow New Town.

His passion for modern church architecture was shared by Francis Burgess, parish priest of Harlow New Town. The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Fatima was one of the earliest liturgically inspired churches to be planned in England.

An innovative contemporary design

The design brief, highly innovative for 1953, was for a church capable of holding up to 500 people, with a freestanding altar in the middle of the congregation, clearly visible to all.

The church was built between 1958 and 1960 in a striking modernist style, using reinforced concrete and Surrey stock bricks, with a distinctive T-shaped plan, central needle spire and simple colour scheme.

Vibrant glass artwork

Stunning dalle de verre glass panels (a glass art technique using thick pieces of coloured glass, giving a deep colour effect) cover around sixty per cent of the wall surfaces, bathing the church in glorious colour and light.

These vibrant glass designs, depicting the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary along with the Tree of Jesse and the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917, were created by Benedictine Monk Dom Charles Norris of Buckfast Abbey, one of the most influential and prodigious glass artists of the 20th century. This was the first of some 250 schemes he undertook in the dalle de verre technique across the United Kingdom.

The church was opened and blessed by the Bishop of Brentwood on 26 March 1960.

An inspiration for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

By the time work had commenced on Our Lady of Fatima, Goalen had joined Frederick Gibberd’s practice and, in 1959, submitted a competition entry to design Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The competition was won by Gibberd himself despite his lack of church building experience or strong religious convictions. His last-minute entry is said to have been influenced by his attendance at Our Lady of Fatima's opening Mass.

Goalen subsequently established his own practice, designing churches such as St Gregory the Great, South Ruislip (1965 to 1967), St Thomas More, Swiss Cottage (1968), both listed at Grade II, and the Catholic Chaplaincy in Cambridge (1977).

A musical connection

Music fans will recognise the Church of Our Lady of Fatima from the album cover for The Chemical Brothers’ 1998 album, 'Brothers Gonna Work It Out'.

Originally listed at Grade II in December 2000, the church has been upgraded to Grade II* listing to reflect its historic and architectural significance.

This stunning church was created as part of the new town of Harlow, offering a brighter and better future in the post-war years, and has been at the heart of the community ever since. With its modern style, striking spire and glorious glass panels, it has proved an inspiration in contemporary church design and is loved by people who take comfort in its calming, beautiful presence every day.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England