We arrived to 48 degree temps in London, biting and gusty winds, but it was good to return to this fascinating city, which to me, has always seemed so very civilized.
Monday we braved the weather (I now understand why the English talk weather so often, it can be quite debilitating) to walk down the block, then turned back, discouraged, wondering if we should spend the day in a museum, which is always an excellent option here. But something led us to Farm Street Church, although at 11 in the morning I didn’t expect it to be open, or if open, lit.
A Mass was in progress, and I wondered why, and we padded our way down the side aisle (one enters oddly through the back, up by the chancel, difficult to enter unnoticed) to the foot of the nave and found seats as the preacher was finishing his homily.
I included a scene set in this church, the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, in my British novel, Inheritance, for this soaring Victorian Gothic sanctuary is not to be missed in London. Apsidal stained glass, marble, three-aisled nave with side chapels, stunning tabernacle and high altar. Founded by the Jesuits in the mid nineteenth century in Mayfair, it continues to be staffed by this educational order, and continues a long tradition of excellent preaching, but it is particularly known for its Mass sung in Latin. Sundays the church is usually packed, some there for the music, some there to worship God, and some to do both.
But this was Monday, and later I realized it was a Bank Holiday, a transferring of May Day, established in the ’seventies. The Church of course honors Mary in May, and I believe that is why Farm Street Church, dedicated to Our Lady, had a special Mass. So I was happy that our first day in London was marked by the Holy Liturgy, and although it was a Low Mass, and no ethereal choir singing in the loft, I drank in the words of Consecration gratefully. I said my morning prayers.
With a copy of Inheritance tucked in my bag, we left the church to find another church, All Saints, Margaret Street, another Victorian church, this one Anglican. The midday Mass was in progress as we arrived, but not offered in the main sanctuary but in an exterior chapel off the entry courtyard. A friendly gentleman saw us looking lost and came out to rescue us from the cold. The celebrant had just finished his homily and was beginning the Consecration, and we fell to our knees in quite a different setting, simpler and more humble, but grateful to be worshipping with our fellow Anglicans. The space held a comforting presence, the dark woods, a lovely apsidal painting of several apostles, the white linen-covered altar, the lower but still vaulted ceiling. The gleaming gold of the tabernacle –the doors hammered with a story – caught my eye. We watched as the five others received the Eucharist as we prayed for the Church, especially the Anglican Communion, which seems to be in such painful disarray.
When meeting with Father Moses, the vicar, afterwards, I was struck with his friendliness, for he was the gentleman who had rescued us from the cold, but since he wasn’t wearing his clerical collar, I didn’t even suspect. (It was after all, a holiday.) He received my little novel with thanks and I explained that a scene was set in his church, that this was a thank-you for his work there and the presence of the church in London.
We braved once again the icy winds and headed down Regent Street, hoping for a bite of lunch at Fortnum & Mason’s, around the corner from Hatchard’s Books, food for the body and for the mind. Two Masses in one day had nourished my soul, and I was grateful.