The church is of early Gothic design and ranks as one of the most beautiful in London. Built entirely of stone it has a purity of line that confers a true sense of majesty, especially in its height, upon the whole building. The arches of the nave are supported by pillars enriched with marble colonettes. Some idea of the massiveness of the building July be gained by the visitor who cares to look up and across the church from different points of the nave. Because the groining is artistically so perfect nowhere does the weight of stone produce a feeling of oppressiveness. The same July be said of the outside where the flying buttresses add a lightness of touch all their own. The church entrance in George Street is a copy of the main entrance to Lichfield Cathedral while throughout the church are many details taken from the best type of the English 13th century Gothic style as exemplified, for instance, at Salisbury and in parts of Westminster Abbey.
Length of Church 195 ft; Width of Church 92 ft; Height of Church 67 ft; Seating 800.
The Communion Rail
We have a very beautiful COMMUNION RAIL in our church. Its decoration contains clusters of grapes and verses from one of the most famous medieval Eucharistic hymns written by St Thomas Aquinas, the ‘Verbum supernum prodiens’.
The War Memorial Chapel
Opposite the main entrance, this chapel is enclosed by a wrought iron screen decorated at the top with oak leaves and fleur-de-lys with the inscription ” Surrexit Christus spes mea ” – Christ my hope is risen – over the gate. Around the walls of this chapel are the fourteen Stations of the Cross carved in alabaster by Geoffrey Webb. The three stained glass windows depict Our Lady, Star of the Sea, commemorating the men of the Royal Navy; St Michael for the men of the Royal Flying Corps and St George for the army. Above the simple but beautiful altar in this chapel is a stone statue of St Teresa of Lisieux. In the frieze either side of the gate there are passion shields reminding us that Christ’s rising from the dead came only after his agony and passion. Worked into the screen are several silver scallops. These, being the emblem of St James of Compostela, were worn in the hats of pilgrims to his shrine. This emblem of St James occurs frequently in the decoration of the Church.
Statue of St. James
High on the wall on the right-hand
(Blandford Street ) side of the church is the large marble statue of St James, the Apostle, Patron of the Church. Besides the sword and palm that symbolize his martyrdom, he carries the staff and bread wallet of the pilgrim reminding us once again of his great shrine at Compostela (restored 2021).
The Golden Lady
Across from the statue of St James, towards the center of the church, stands the statue of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, known as the Golden Lady. It is completely covered with gold leaf except for the shoes which are red. It was made locally by a stone mason in 1840 and is reputed to be the second statue to be erected in a London Church after the Reformation (restored 2021).
Altar of Our Lady of Victories
This altar is a fine example of carved marble and alabaster with five panels depicting the Madonna and Child with angels in the opus sectile of the reredos. Here stands the much-traveled statue of Our Lady of Fatima to whom there is great devotion among the parishioners. It was presented to the church by the wife of the Portuguese Ambassador, the Duchess of Palmella, in 1949.
The Martyrs Altar
Originally the altar of St Michael, whose statue still remains on the wall above, this altar now honors fourteen of the English Martyrs canonized in 1970. The painting that forms the reredos is the work of Geoffrey Webb. To the left is a statue of St John Fisher whose memory will always be cherished in the University of Cambridge; on the right is a statue of his friend St Thomas More honoured and loved as perhaps the finest flower of Christian humanism produced by the Renaissance. Both were martyred near the Tower of London in 1535 (restored 2021).
Plaque of Our Lady
To the right of the Martyrs’ Altar is a fifteenth-century Florentine plaque of Our Lady, an alto relievo which comes from a museum collection and was presented to the church by Dame Una Pope-Hennessy in 1942.
The Lady Chapel
Described as being ” without a peer in the land ” the chapel contains a reredos of the highest artistic merit. Designed by J.F. Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral, the delicately carved and gilded wood with its angels and their musical instruments, its vine plants and grapes, provided the perfect setting for the painting of the Immaculate Conception. This painting, a copy of the Murillo, was presented to the church by the Count de Torre Diaz. Beneath it the nine panels contain representations of outstanding Old Testament figures. On the right of the entrance is a statue of St Anne bearing on her arm the Virgin Mother and Child. This wooden statue is 15th century German.
Certainly one of the most artistic Gothic chancels in London with a high arch rising to the groined roof of the nave, (yet in contrast to the nave which is manifestly English Gothic) the Chancel is at once reminiscent of the Gothic of the finest French cathedrals. The apse is heptagonal and has in its lower half seven pointed arches filled with opus sectile. The centre panel portrays the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Our Lady and the Apostles while the other six contain symbols of sacrificial and sacramental aspects of the Holy Eucharist, taken from the Old Testament. High on the wall above the choir stalls can be seen two built-in gilt crowns. It was beneath these that places were always given to King Alfonso and Queen Ena of Spain when they attended the church. Quite the outstanding feature is the reredos made of black hammered iron decorated with gilt scallop shells and flowers. In the canopied niches at the ends are gilt bronze statues, on one side St James, on the other St Anne. Above is a gilt hexagonal canopy and suspended behind this is a corona of rock crystals which is lowered over the monstrance during Benediction and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The sanctuary floor is golden mosaic.
The Rose Window
Best viewed from the communion rail is the great Rose Window set in the back wall of the church. St James is portrayed in the center glass surrounded by the heraldry of the Spanish Royal Family and of the chief Bishop’s Sees of Spain. The window is dated 1915.
The Sacred Heart Altar
The panels of the reredos, resting upon a plain marble slab, depict the Sacred Heart of Jesus together with scenes of the birth of Christ; Peter’s denial of Christ, with the cock in the foreground; the Last Supper and Christ appearing to the doubting Thomas.
St Joseph's Altar
The statue of St Joseph is flanked by two angels carved in stone with more angels in the six panels of the reredos representing the number of times the angels visited St Joseph to make God’s plans known to him. The front of the altar depicts the flight of the holy family into Egypt (restored 2021).
On the wall close by there is a large statue of St Peter holding the keys of God’s kingdom, a fisherman’s net by his side. Inset in the floor below is a brass representation of Canon Michael Barry in Mass vestments. Canon Barry is not buried here; but as founder of the present church it is fitting he should be commemorated in this way.
The pulpit, made of white marble, and alabaster is ornamented by statues of St John the Baptist and St Paul. Above is a canopy decorated with painted scallops from which hangs a gilded dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
The organ, situated in the triforium above the sanctuary, was built in 1922 by Alfred Hunter and Sons of Clapham, London. Because of the striking and unusual acoustics of the building, it was voiced by the builder in the church and remains today exactly in its original tonal design. Hunter built a number of very fine instruments throughout the country but the one in St James’s is regarded by organists and organ builders as the finest example of his superb craftsmanship. Five ranks of pipes were retained from the Gray and Davidson organ (previously by the famous eighteenth century builder, Samuel Green) originally in the Spanish Chapel. The present organ has fifty three ranks of pipes on three manuals and pedals. Wind pressures are from three and a half inches for flue-work to ten inches for the heavy reeds.