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Wesley's Chapel
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Wesley's Chapel

John Wesley (1703-91) was one of the greatest figures in English Christian history, for he founded and led the huge new movement of Methodism, and throughout his adult life travelled and preached all over England and also in North America. He was the son of an Anglican parson, and his rescue from fire as a child made him think that he had a special destiny. The text, A brand plucked out of the burning', featured many times in his diary. He was ordained in the Church of England, but not until he underwent a further religious conversion in 1738 did his great mission begin. 'I felt my heart strangely warmed,' he wrote after a meeting in Aldersgate near the present Museum of London. In 1739 he bought an old workshop in City Road and converted it into the Foundery Chapel. It lasted until the present Wesley's Chapel was built in 1777-8.

Wesley's Chapel

John Wesley's tomb (right) at the rear of the chapel, with the chapel itself reflected in the glass of the adjoining offices.

George Dance the younger designed the chapel. Since his day it has acquired a portico (in 1815) and vestibule wings, and it has required much restoration. But its appearance is not very different to that of 1778. Its facade, set well back behind a courtyard dominated by a statue of Wesley by J. Adams-Acton, 1891, is of five bays, of which the middle three project slightly and are surmounted by a pediment. The chapel has a wide, galleried interior, with an east recess for the Classical reredos and altar, and a screened vestibule on the west wide. The fittings and adornments have grown in number and richness since the 18th century. The polished Jasper columns that support the gallery replaced wooden ships' masts donated by King George III, some of which can now be seen in the vestibule. The pews were replaced in 1891. The pulpit still stands in the middle, as in a pre-Victorian Anglican church, but it is only the top section of the original three-decker, John Wesley's well-known brother Charles, preached from it with energetic gesticulations. On one occasion, he knocked a hymn-book onto the head of a prayer-reader in a lower tier. When the pulpit Bible fell a little later, the reader was ready to catch it, to the congregation's amusement. Charles Wesley was a celebrated writer of hymns. His chamber organ is kept in the Foundery chapel, a small, top-lit room that stands south of the chapel proper.

Wesley's Chapel

The statue of John Wesley by J. Adams-Acton seen with the chapel's principal fagade in the background.

John Wesley's tomb is located to the rear of the chapel. An urn surmounts a monument of three receding stages, with long inscriptions which record Wesley's extraordinary mission. The Museum of Methodism which was opened in the chapel's crypt in 1984 tells of that mission's results over two and a half centuries.

Wesley's Chapel

The pulpit and the gallery are Georgian, but the jasper columns and the stained glass are late Victorian embellishments.

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