Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Church of the London Oratory

Over the years, we have published many photos of liturgies at the London Oratory, but we have never done an article on the church per se. In honor of the feast of St Philip Neri, here are some pictures which I took when I was in London last year on pilgrimage with the Schola St Cécile. (We had the good fortune to stay in a place which is just a few blocks away, and therefore also close to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is next door to the Oratory.) I will have a separate post on a particular artistic feature of the Oratory which deserves special attention.

The church is officially dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At the time of its construction, which began in June of 1880 with the laying of the cornerstone, the neo-Gothic style was very much associated with the Anglo-Catholic and ritualist movements within Anglicanism. The Oratory was therefore deliberately built in the Italian Renaissance style, with elements of the Baroque, partly to emphasize its Roman Catholic affiliation, and partly in honor of the origins of the Congregation of the Oratory. (Westminster Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style for much the same reason.) The façade will immediately remind anyone is who is familiar with Rome of both Sant’Agostino, one of the Eternal City’s most important Renaissance churches, but also of the Roman Oratory, Santa Maria in Vallicelli (still known to this day, more than four and half centuries after its foundation, as “Chiesa Nuova – New Church.”)
Likewise, the architecture of the interior is clearly inspired by any number of Roman churches of the Counter-Reformation; the gigantic order of the columns in the nave, which pass through one cornice to reach up to the second one under the clerestory, the side-chapels engaged deep within the side-aisles, and above all the dome, elevated and pierced with windows, are all very much reminiscent of St Peter’s Basilica, and the churches subsequently inspired by it.
The main sanctuary. 
The chapel of the Seven Sorrows, a devotion which was particularly dear to Fr Faber, one of the founders of the Oratory. It has traditionally been used as a funerary chapel, and as the focus of the activities of the Confraternity of the Precious Blood, a devotion which was very important in pre-Reformation England.
A bronze statue of St Peter, copied from the famous one by Arnolfo di Cambio in St Peter’s in Rome.
The preaching pulpit in the nave.
The altar of Our Lady of the Rosary, acquired from the Dominican church of the Italian city of Brescia, dedicated to the Order’s founder, but demolished in 1883.
The chapel of St Wilfrid, bishop of York from 664-78, whom Fr Faber honored as a special patron; he is buried in the floor of the chapel before this altar, which was recovered from the suppressed abbey of St Remy at Rochefort in Belgium.
Within the chapel there is also this copy of Stefano Maderno’s statue of St Cecilia from her basilica in Rome; it is of course particularly appropriate that a church with such an important musical tradition should have a special shrine to the patron Saint of musicians.
There is also an altar dedicated to the English Martyrs of the Reformation. This triptych by the painter Rex Whistler, his only religious work, was commissioned by the Oratorian Fathers in 1938 to celebrate the canonization of Ss John Fisher (right) and Thomas More (left), which had taken place three years earlier. In the middle is seen the Tyburn Tree, a gallows at a place formerly outside London (now within the city, close to Marble Arch), on which over 350 Catholics, many of them now canonized Saints, were killed for the Faith.
The dome
The Calvary
The chapel of St Patrick, made at Fr Faber’s behest for a confraternity dedicated to that Saint, and especially frequented by the Oratory’s Irish congregants.

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