Open church: St Mary, Willesden
This Grade II*-listed church boasts a long and fascinating history going back to 938, when it was reputedly founded by King Athelstan. Although it has been rebuilt many times, the building retains a substantial amount of medieval fabric, including a possibly 11th century font, an early 14th century main door and a 15th century tower.
In the later Middle Ages the church was a centre of pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Black Madonna of Willesden, which was reinstated in the 1900s – the hours are advertised on the website.
The building is not staffed but sacred music is played through loudspeakers to remind visitors that this is a holy place. A member of the PCC lives in a cottage opposite the main entrance and keeps an eye on things from there.
The altar is dressed but substitute candlesticks are placed on it, the antique ones being only brought out for Mass on Sunday.
The vestry, kitchen and toilet doors are kept locked.
Parish priest Father Andrew Hammond and the two church wardens Esther Ugwunkwo and Elsie Points readily admit that staying committed to regular opening hasn’t always been easy, but they haven’t wavered:
“It’s really important that this church is available as a place of prayer for the whole community”.
This was written by Edmund Harris, formerly of the Parish Property Support Team.