St Etheldreda's Church
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|St Etheldreda's Church, Ely Place|
Exterior of St Etheldreda's as viewed from Ely Place
|Functional status||Parish church|
|Heritage designation||Grade I|
St Etheldreda's Church is in Ely Place, off Charterhouse Street in Holborn, London. The Roman Catholic church is dedicated to Æthelthryth, or Etheldreda, the Anglo-Saxon saint who founded the monastery at Ely in 673. In the 17th century it served as an embassy chapel for English Catholics, It was the chapel of the London residence of the Bishops of Ely.
It is one of the oldest Catholic churches in England, and one of two surviving buildings in London dating from Edward I's reign. The chapel was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1874 and opened in 1878.
St Etheldreda's consists of a chapel, or upper church, and a crypt or undercroft and is active and used for Masses, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Because Etheldreda was often invoked for help with infections of the throat, the Blessing of the Throats is held annually at the chapel.
In 1576 a lease on a portion of the house and lands surrounding the chapel was granted by Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, to Sir Christopher Hatton, a favourite of Elizabeth I. The rent was £10, ten loads of hay and one red rose per year, a small enough sum to give rise to suspicion that Elizabeth had put pressure on the bishop. Hatton borrowed extensively from the crown to pay for refurbishment and upkeep of the property. During his tenancy, the crypt was used as a tavern.
In 1620, the upper church was granted to Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, to use as a private chapel and considered to be on Spanish soil. Catholic worship, still illegal in England, was allowed in the church. Two years later, during a diplomatic dispute between England and Spain, Gondomar was recalled to Spain and use of the chapel was not given to his successor.
In 1642, the palace and church was requisitioned by Parliament for use as a prison and hospital during the English Civil War. During Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth (1649–1660) most of the palace was demolished and the gardens were destroyed.
In 1772, an Act of Parliament allowed the Bishops of Ely to sell the property to the Crown. The site, including the chapel, was sold on to Charles Cole, a surveyor and architect. He demolished all the buildings on the site apart from the chapel and built Ely Place. The chapel was extensively refurbished in the Georgian style before it re-opened in 1786.
In 1820 the chapel was taken over by the National Society for the Education of the Poor who hoped to convert the Irish Catholic immigrants then settling in the area. A short time later the church closed.
In 1836, Ely Chapel was reopened by the Reverend Alexander D'Arblay (son of Fanny Burney) as a place of Anglican worship but he died the following year. In 1843, the church was leased by Welsh Anglicans with services celebrated in the Welsh language. The chapel was put up for auction in 1874 and purchased for £5,400 by the Catholic convert Father William Lockhart of the Rosminian order.
Under Lockhart's direction, the crypt and upper church were restored by George Gilbert Scott to their original 13th-century designs. John Francis Bentley designed a choir screen incorporating a confessional, an organ and a choir gallery. The royal coat of arms, added during the reign of Charles I, was removed to the cloister. The church received a relic from the Duke of Norfolk: a piece of St Etheldreda's hand which is kept in a jewel cask to the right of the high altar.
The restoration was completed in 1878 and a Catholic Mass was celebrated in St Ethelreda's for the first time in over 200 years. The upper church was reopened in 1879 on the Feast of St Etheldreda (23 June).
For many years, St Etheldreda's church was the oldest Catholic church building in England, but since 1971 it has been surpassed by the 12th century church of Ss Leonard & Mary in Malton, North Yorkshire.
In 1952, new stained glass by Joseph Nuttgens was installed in the east window. It features the Trinity, the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St Bridget of Kildare and St Etheldreda. The stained glass windows in the south wall depict scenes from the Old Testament, and the ones in the north wall shows scene from the New Testament.
In the 1960s, two groups of four statues of English Catholic martyrs from the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were installed along the north and south walls. They include St Edmund Gennings, St Swithun Wells, St Margaret Ward, Blessed John Forest, Blessed Edward Jones, Blessed John Roche, St Anne Line, and St John Houghton.
In 2011, the Catholic Church proposed that St Anne's Church, Laxton Place, be used as the principal church of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The journalist Damian Thompson, a prominent supporter of the ordinariate, called for St Etheldreda's to be used by the ordinariate, asserting that the church suffered a decline, both liturgically and as a parish community, in the early years of the 21st century.
Father Kit Cunningham, for some 30 years the rector of St Etheldreda’s, was awarded the MBE in 1998. Cunningham returned the MBE before his death in 2010. It was subsequently revealed in June 2011 that Cunningham had sexually abused young boys at a school in Tanzania.
- Embassy chapel
- Sardinian Embassy Chapel
- St James's, Spanish Place
- List of buildings that survived the Great Fire of London
- St Etheldreda's, Ely Place: A Pitkin Guide, by Fr Kit Cunningham with Rosemary Nibbs (Norwich: Jarrold Publishing, 2003)
- A notice of Ely chapel, Holborn: with some account of Ely palace by Thomas Boyles Murray (1840)
- Historic England, "Catholic Church of St Etheldreda and attached walls and piers, Ely Place (1078287)", National Heritage List for England, retrieved 28 July 2017
- Old and New London: Vol 2 (1878), pp. 514-526
- Thompson, Damian (18 January 2011). "The Ordinariate has got off to an impressive start – but now it needs a London church". The Telegraph. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
- Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster notice
- Daily Telegraph obituary 13 December 2010
- "Why didn't the Rosminian order tell us the truth about Fr Kit?". Catholic Herald. 20 June 2011.
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