Thursday, April 02, 2020

The Consecration of a Small English Church in 1846: Guest Article by Sharon Kabel

Our thanks to Sharon Kabel for sharing with us this account of the 1846 dedication of an English church, in the early years of the English Catholic revival. This article includes some photos of the church’s stained glass windows of an unusual subject, as well as a complete transcription of an article about the consecration from a contemporary Catholic newspaper. Sharon also put togother a playlist, which is linked below, of the music or the ceremony. Last October, we shared some of her research on the brief-lived Bible vigils mentioned in Sacrosanctum Concilium; you can find more of her work on her website:

In the fall of 1846, construction finished for Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Spinkhill, Derbyshire, England. The event merited a nearly 2,500 word, 4-column write-up in the Catholic Telegraph.

Spinkhill, almost exactly in the middle of England, is a not-insignificant region for students of English Catholic history. It was a Jesuit mission, and a hotbed of resistance during the country’s anti-Catholic attacks. Some of the land was owned by the Pole family (of the great Cardinal Reginald Pole), and one of the teachers at the nearby Mount St. Mary’s College was Gerard Manley Hopkins.

A magnificently detailed history of Immaculate Conception Church has fortunately already been written by Paul D. Walker (Church of the Immaculate Conception, Spinkhill; 1990), and there are numerous shorter histories of the church. It will suffice here to concentrate on a few details of Immaculate Conception’s opening (September 21) and consecration (September 22), that survive because of a thorough 19th century journalist.

In attendance were at least two bishops: Nicholas Wiseman (later Cardinal), and Thomas Walsh. Wiseman, who was to fill Walsh’s episcopal sandals in a few short years, needs little introduction. Walsh lived a fascinating span of years, being jailed as a college student in 1793 during the French Revolution, witnessing Pope Pius VII’s restoration of the Jesuits in 1814 (a particularly important event for Spinkhill), and dying 1 year after the 1848 Revolutions.

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Neil Theasby: CC BY-SA 2.0
The Catholic Telegraph article provided a sumptuous level of detail, including an extensive program of the music. I have imperfectly and incompletely reconstructed the music of the consecration Mass at YouTube and Spotify, which give a taste of what must have been a gloriously triumphant day for Derbyshire Catholics.

The church’s altar was from the local quarry, and the exterior statues were sculpted from the ruins of Roche Abbey, a twelfth century Cistercian house suppressed in 1538 that lives on, at least in a small way, in Immaculate Conception.

Most interesting for this researcher - in a church already so interesting and so recurring in the anecdota of Catholic England - was the newspaper’s description of a St. Joseph’s Chapel, with stained glass windows for the Seven Joys and Sorrows (or Dolors) of Saint Joseph - a decorative feature that I have yet to see documented anywhere else. Extensive research on these windows was no match for the generosity of Immaculate Conception’s current pastor, Father Peter D. McGuire, who has been kind enough to answer a strange librarian’s many questions, and to allow me to share photos of these windows.

Full transcription of the Catholic Telegraph article


This church was solemnly consecrated on the 21st inst., by the Right Rev. Dr. Wiseman, assisted by the members of the College to which it is attached. The whole ceremonial was performed as prescribed in the Roman Pontifical. The consecration was followed by the Mass appointed for such occasions, which was celebrated by the Very Rev. Randal Lythgoe. On the following day the solemn opening took place as described with sufficient accuracy in the Sheffield Mercury, the account from which we subjoin. The weather on both days was lovely, and tended greatly to set off the procession, from the college to the church, and to render the occasion one of joy and congratulation to the neighbourhood.

On this Thursday following the solemn opening, a dinner was served out in the study hall of the college, in the true old Catholic style, to the farmers in the neighbourhood, who had with wonderful liberality assisted in carting stone and other materials for the building of the church. Between thirty and forty sat down to dinner, and of that number four only were Catholics. The remainder were Protestants who, like their neighbours, have uniformly shown the most liberal and kindly feeling towards the members of the College.

“The consecration and dedication of this structure, designated ‘The Church of the Immaculate Conception,’ took place on Tuesday last, amidst great pomp and splendour. The edifice was commenced nearly three years ago, the first stone being laid by the Rev. Randal Lythgoe, Provincial of the Society of Jesus in England; and the works have proceeded satisfactorily to their completion, under the direction of the talented architect, Mr. Hanson. The necessary funds were raised by subscription. The edifice is situated on an eminence known as Mount St. Mary’s, three quarters of a mile eastward of the Eckington Station oil the Midland Railway, and some eight miles south of Sheffield; with its heaven-ward-pointing spire, it forms a beautiful object in the landscape, and may be seen from a great distance. It is built on the ground in front of the Roman Catholic College, which commands a beautiful view of the surrounding country to the extent of many miles. This spot is associated with the recollection of the high and palmy days of Roman Catholicism, and was known and celebrated as the Spink Hill Mission, long before the Reformation. Even in subsequent periods, when Rome fell from her high estate, this establishment escaped destruction, and suffered less from the destroyer than almost any other. Within the last few years, the pile has been almost totally rebuilt, and was opened in July, 1842, as an educational establishment in connection with the College of Stonyhurst, in Lancashire. It was built for the accommodation of sixty pupils, and already contains nearly that number.

The day set apart for the ceremony was looked forward to with much interest: the weather had been so settled that little anxiety was felt on that score; and the morning sky presented a degree of clearness and beauty that would have done credit to even a more sunny climate than ours. The attendance at this imposing ceremonial consisted of about 250 people composed almost exclusively of the higher and middle classes, amongst whom were many ladies; the admission was by ticket. The importance attached to the event may be inferred from the high rank of some of the visitors, as well as from the great distance whence many of them travelled.— The following were amongst the number: The Rev. Dr. Walsh, Bishop of the Midland District; the Right Rev. Dr. Wiseman, Coadjutor Bishop to Dr. Walsh; the Very Rev. Randal Lythgoe, Provincial of the Society of Jesus; and nearly forty of the Catholic clergy, secular and regular.— Amongst the principal laymen were the Right Hon. the Earl of Shrewsbury, Alton Towers; the Hon. William Stourton, Aldwick Hall, Masbro’; Sir Edward Vavasour, Hazlewood Hall, Tadcaster; the Hon. and Rev. Marmaduke Stourton: W. Constable Maxwell, Esq.,. Everingham Hall, Yorkshire; J, B. Bowdon, Esq., and family, Southgate House, Spink Hall; T. Constable Esq.; F. Middleton, Esq., Park Hall; T. Hercy, Esq., M. Ellison, Esq,, and family, Sheffield; Tamworth Ferrers, Esq;, &c. &c.

The building is a commodious and handsome structure, in the early English style. It is built of a dark green stone, and forms a pleasing contrast with the coin-stones and windows, which are of a bright grey colour. The length is 108 feet, and the average width 20 feet. Arising out of the tower at the western end is a fine Gothic spire, the height of which from the ground is 116 feet. The exterior of the building is ornamented with specimens of sculpture of high merit, worked out of stone from Roche Abbey; they consist of some forty-six figures —principally busts of saints. One especially—the effigy of the Blessed Virgin, placed in a niche in the tower—may challenge comparison with the best productions of modern art. The whole of the windows are of stained glass, mostly executed by Mr. Snow, of London, and are as rich as depth and variety of colouring can render them; two of the smaller ones are the work of Mr. Goodwin, of Balborough. The principal, the large eastern window, represents in medallions the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour, the Baptism, the Presentation in the Temple, the Annunciation, the Crowning with Thorns, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The beautiful side lights are of arabesque patterns, with medallions, in which are embodied the Stations of the Passion of our Blessed Saviour. Resting against the walls are eight busts—effigies of the saints of the Order of Jesus—the execution of which has been greatly admired bv competent judges of the art; they were carved by Mr. Maples. The ceiling is as splendid as a profusion of gold can render it; the decorative department is executed by the operation called stencilling, and shows how much that art is capable of. In the windows of the adjoining Chapel of St. Joseph are represented the Seven Mysteries; and in the Baptistery are representations of the Baptism of our Saviour by St. John, and the Expulsion from Paradise. The length of the nave is 60 feet and the width 25 feet; the chancel is 21 feet by 17 feet. The altar is built of stone from Broadsworth Quarry, near Doncaster. The architect, as before stated, is Mr, Hanson, of London (the architect of the Birmingham Town Hall.) The present edifice reflects credit upon his taste and judgment, and affords the highest satisfaction to the parties immediately concerned.

The proceedings were announced to begin at eleven in the morning, but the necessary preparations occupied till half-past. At that time a numerous procession was formed at the College, where the company had assembled. The Clergy were all habited in the full costume of their rank, Bishop Walsh bearing the crozier. They moved in the following order:—
Cross Bearer.
Torch Bearers.
Eighteen Clergy in surplices.
Bishops in Copes with attendant Priests.
Students of the College.

As the procession moved along—the rich vestments of the clergy glittering in the sun—it presented an appearance of great novelty to the Protestant mind, and could not fail to bring to the memory of the beholder the accounts he had read of the great external splendour which characterised the formula of the Mosaic religion.— The same order was observed to the church, the priests chaunting the Litany. To convey a just idea of the ceremonial, characterised as it was by so much splendour, would require powers of description of the highest order: indeed, the subject more properly belongs to our “illustrated’’ contemporaries of the broad-sheet. To say that it was grand, even approaching to sublimity, would not involve the least approach to exaggeration. Indeed, it seemed as if nothing had been omitted that could at all heighten the effect. The 'dim religious light’ from the stained-glass window, displayed to advantage the proceedings at the altar, in front of which the officiating clergy moved to and fro while performing the ceremony of High Mass; at intervals quite enshrouded by clouds of incense, which even dimmed the lustre of the many waxlights by which they were surrounded.—

The entire proceedings were characterised by marked reverence. The choral service was performed by the choristers and organist from the Catholic Chapel at Wakefield (who gave their services gratuitously), in a style seldom attained by so small a number of performers.—

The pieces selected for the occasion were Kyrie and Gloria, from Hummel's Mass No. .2, in C flat; the Credo, from Haydn’s Mass No. 3 (solo by Miss Martin); Duett at the offertory—Newkomm’s ‘O Salutaris;’ Sanctus and Benedictus, from Haydn’s Mass No. 7; ‘Agnus Dei,’ from Mozart’s Mass No. 1; Quartet and Chorus, ‘Dona Nobis;’ after the Benediction, the Hallelujah Chorus. The rich tenor voice of the leader, Mr. H. Wilson, so justly celebrated as a vocalist, and the fine treble of Miss Martin, contributed in no small degree to the beauty of the service. The rolling notes of the rich organ blended sweetly with the music of ‘the human voice divine,’ and the performance of the organist excited no little surprise, when it became known that he was but a boy of fourteen years. After the celebration of Mass, a sermon was preached by the Rev. William Cobb, late Superior of Mount St. Mary’s, from the Gospel of St. John, chap.x., v. 10. It was directed principally to a vindication of the ceremonies and symbols so conspicuous in the formula of the Catholic mode of worship.

The service concluded about two oclock, shortly after which the clergy and the principal guests partook of a sumptuous lunch at the college; after which the bell summoned them to prepare for Vespers. On their way to church the same order was preserved as in the morning, but there was less splendour in the habiliments of the clergy. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Henry Seagrave of Stonyhurst College, from the text, ‘Glory be to God in the highest; peace on earth to men of good will.’ The Litany of the Blessed Virgin was sung by the pupils of the college. The other pieces were a trio, ‘O Jesu,’ from Haydn’s ‘Seasons,’ and Webb's Chorus in A, ‘Tantum Ergo.’ A collection was made after each service, amounting to 601.”

Description of the new church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, Spink-Hill

The church is in the style of the period that ushered in what is denominated by Rickman the Decorated English; it consists of a simple nave sixty feet by twenty-five feel, with a chancel at the east twenty-three feet by seventeen feet, and a baptistery within the tower, but open to the church, at the west end, fifteen feet by twelve, making the whole interior length from west to east ninety-eight feet. In addition to the chancel at the east-end, and opening into it by the archways and screens, is a small chapel of St. Joseph, and in the other (the south-side of the chancel) the vestry. The church is five bays in length, and at the second buy from the west-end is the south door and porch to the church; on the north is another porch designed for the use of the college especially, as an approach to the Chapel of St. Joseph. The tower is also open to the church above the baptistery and contains the organ with a commodious choir gallery; a winding staircase, shown on the exterior as a quarter octagon and roofed with stone, leads to this and the ringing chamber, and belfry. The tower is, therefore bold and lofty, and is surmounted by a spire reaching to the height of 116 feet, provision is made at the base of the spire under four gables for the clock-faces, and a bell of thirteen hundred weight, by Sheridan, of Dublin, already occupies the bell chamber, destined for a peal of six. The stone was in great part raised from the quarries on the College farm, and the work executed, with such exceptions as are named, by the College workmen, so that no great pretensions are set up in either of these respects. Yet, for the credit of Mr. Peter Seid, who acted as foreman, .and the workmen under him, it should be said that on all hands the structure is acknowledged to be one of great solidity and considerable beauty. By the selection of a bright grey grit stone for quoins and dressings, and a simple style of undressed wallstone masonry of a different tint, as much effect is obtained through contrast of colour as by many elaborate lines and expensive mouldings.— The spire itself is handed or chequered with the same variety of stones, and it is surprising with how little labour and cost there is thus produced an apparent richness and ornament. The windows of the nave are two lights each with alternate trefoil and quartrefoil rings in the heads. The chancel is a threelight window in keeping with these, having a cinquefoil centre, and two trefoils on the tracery of the arch. St. Joseph’s Chapel has a range of seven lancetlike lights at one end illuminated, as is described in the account of the glass, with the Seven Joys of St. Joseph. The roof is of oak, massive, and so designed as to admit of elaborate finishings; the walls, also, are left to receive oak linings, which it is hoped future zeal will assist in making worthy of the Chapel of the Holy Carpenter, by having them well charged with wooden carvings; those at the end opposite the seven windows with the Seven Dolors of St. Joseph, and at the sides with the Genealogy of the House of David. A new mode of finishing plaster walls has been attempted in the channel, which it is hoped may be of service in producing an agreeable finish, and consistent with the nature of the material. Instead of jointing or incising the plaster in imitation of stone, a diagonal or lozenge-shaped arrangement has been followed with small cement paterae at the intersections of each lozenge; it forms in fact, a species of permanent diaper, and will be found serviceable in all cases of large plain surfaces not relieved by colour of other like means. The Bradsworth stone, of which mention is made as having been used for the altar, is worthy of being known amongst church sculptors and architects; it has been used here also for the sedilias, and two inches at the sides of the east window, occupied, the a statue of St. Thomas of Canterbury, the other by a statue of St. Hugh; the effect is beautiful both as to finish and colour, and may be put In successful comparison with Caen or any other well-known stone.

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