Saint Sophia or The Church of the Wisdom of God, Buckland Road
The Church of the Wisdom of God is situated at the junction of the A217 Brighton Road and Buckland Road. It is built in the shape of a Roman basilica and was consecrated in 1892, slightly later than St Peter’s Italian Church in London. It is however denominationally Church of England, the first such church that I have found in the UK which contains a wide selection of marble, including Karystian cipollino. It was the inspiration of two Victorian archaeologists, Dr Edwin Hanson Freshfield and Sir Henry Cosmo Orme Bonsor, Bart., both residents of Lower Kingswood. It was designed by the Victorian architect, Sidney Barnsley, based on the Church of St Irene in Constantinople, built by the Roman emperor, Constantine in the 4th century AD. William Brindley was in charge of the marble decoration of the church.

The exterior is of brick and Ham stone (Plate 8.72). The interior is decorated with fine marbles and mosaics in the manner of Roman and Byzantine basilicas. Most of the marbles are Roman: some come from Roman columns and others from hewn blocks left in ancient Roman quarries. Many of the marbles in the apse were cut from Roman columns. The marble in these columns was quarried shortly after the time of Christ and imported to Rome by the emperors Tiberius and Hadrian.15
The marble cladding in the apse behind the altar, used in the same way as in St Peter’s Church in Edinburgh, is made up of many different types of marble. The top band is of a light greyish marble. Of the panels below some are clearly of Karystian cipollino, the other being of a much lighter greyish colour but all cut in the same Rorschach pattern. The leaflet on the church states that ‘the light grey marble to the back of the apse is known as cipollino, an Italian word meaning little onion, reflecting the pattern of an onion slice. The location of its Greek quarry is unknown’. I have never seen examples of this particular colour and pattern from any of the Karystian quarries and very much doubt that it is Karystian cipollino. The Karystian cipollino is to the right and left of the ‘light grey marble’ in six panels each side. They are 1.54 m. high cut in two pieces each measuring .77 m. The outside panel measures .13 m. and the following five measure .18 m. wide (Plate 8.73).

A band of verde antico runs along the whole length of the apse below the upper panels and below the verde antico there are more panels of the light grey cipollino interspersed by panels of breccia. At each corner of the apse there are two more panels of Karystian cipollino measuring .53m wide and .62 m. high (Plate 8.74). Behind the altar, but not visible in the photograph, there are 12 panels of Karystian cipollino measuring .62 m. high and from .14 m wide, all matching in the Rorschach pattern, although not evenly (Plate 8.75). On the floor, at each end of the altar there is a curved segment of Karystian cipollino, measuring between .80 and .83 m at one radius and between .70 to .75 m. at the other.
Finally, on the outside corner of the apse, at the lower level, on the right and left of the first step, flanked by pieces of breccia, are two matching pairs of three panels of Karystian cipollino, measuring .62 m. x .85 m.

In the Baptistry, near the entrance to the church, the three walls which enclose the font are clad with panels of Karystian cipollino, three lots of six panels, measuring altogether 1.68 high, cut in two pieces of 1.40 m. and .28 m. (Plate 8.76).The left and right walls are interrupted by an identical large rectangle of another marble, both placed at .28 m. from the top and bottom of the wall. The middle wall, at the back of the font, is interrupted by a window, two marble panels in width.

15 The church of the Wisdom of God, Buckland Road, Lower Kingswood, Surrey, 1992, Introduction and p. 4.

Maps and Plates

Plate 8.72.JPG

Plate 8.72 Saint Sophia or the Church of the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey.

Plate 8.73.JPG

Plate 8.73 Marble cladding in the apse of the Church of the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey. The darker pieces at the sides are the Karystian cipollino.

Plate 8.74.JPG

Plate 8.74 Close up of the Karystian cipollino panels in the apse, the Church of the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey.

Plate 8.75.JPG

Plate 8.75 Karystian cipollino in the apse (two panels in each corner) below the altar, the Church of the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey.

Plate 8.76.JPG

Plates 8.76 Panels of cipollino on the walls of the Baptistry, behind the font, the Church of the Wisdom of God, Lower Kingswood, Surrey.