I brought along several copies of Inheritance to give as thank you gifts to Anglo-Catholic parishes in London, for my novel traces the history of Christianity in England with a natural emphasis on Anglican roots. With hopes of finding the churches open and the vicars available at the midday Masses, we planned our visits to a few selected parishes in London.
We arrived early at the Victorian church, Our Most Holy Redeemer, in the neighborhood of Clerkenwell, for the 12:30 Mass. The church began as a mission church and since its consecration in October 1888, has remained firmly in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, seeing the use of vestments, incense, bells, candles and reverence to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle as appropriate honor to the glory of God. The interior was influenced by Brunelleschi’s church, Santo Spirito in Florence, and I could see the façade was Italianate as well.
We entered the large nave. It seemed that everything focused on the altar and its gleaming tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. White columns led to the high altar where more columns supported a baldachin. The space was all whites and blues, with a white balustrade around the chancel. I said a prayer for the church in these difficult times and left a copy of my little book with the Church Warden to give to Father Bagott, the parish priest, who was out of town. The Warden was most friendly, as was a lovely lady who answered my questions and gave me a brochure about the church. I could only imagine how glorious their Sunday Mass must be, and hoped one day I could return.
We continued on to St. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, a short walk away. This church too, was stunning, a soaring Victorian Gothic church built in 1863 by William Butterfield. We stepped through a steepled porch into an open courtyard and through an arched doorway into the nave. This sanctuary also was soaring, with a longer and narrower nave, but like Holy Redeemer, all pointed to the High Altar and the Sacrament reserved there. The vertical space reminded me of a medieval cathedral, the pointed arches above the chancel, the long side aisles running under vaults, the massive apsidal fresco rising to the pitched tower above. There was a simplicity in this nave of gray and white stone, the central aisle leading to the altar draped in white linen, the six tall candlesticks on either side of the tabernacle, the single red candle burning along side. Here as well, I would wish to return for a High Mass.
A gentleman working in the back promised to place my novel on Father Levett’s desk, and I was thankful.
We continued toward the river, past St. Paul’s, toward London Bridge to visit the last church on my list, St. Magnus the Martyr.
Unlike the others, St. Magnus goes back to medieval times, possibly earlier, and its records abound with historical references. Layers of history form this church. Miles Coverdale, whose translation of the Bible in the mid-sixteenth century was used by Thomas Cranmer in his creation of ourBook of Common Prayer, is buried here. He was appointed parish priest in 1563, but being of a more Protestant persuasion in regards to vestments and ritual, he was forced to leave when Parliament required stricter observance of the liturgy.
This church, while dating to medieval times, is a Christopher Wren church, having been rebuilt after the great fire of 1666, like so many in London. Located at the foot of London Bridge, it was the second church to be destroyed in the great fire. There are many historical notes, but one which remains in my mind is 17th-century Archbishop Laud’s instructions regarding installing altar rails. It seems the rails were required to keep animals from the Holy Table. Who would have guessed?
We entered the sanctuary through a vestibule and could see the 12:30 Mass was over. A priest, however, met us and found Father Warner, the priest in charge. Father Warner most graciously accepted my novel, then gave us a short tour of the church, as well as a wonderful booklet on its history and shrines. There were so many interesting levels of history in this church, I shall definitely return, and to worship in such a setting, with the full ritual of Anglo-Catholic ceremony, would be wonderful indeed.
An amazing day, surprising yet predictable, and full of grace.
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