Sunday, 25 August 2013

London Churches 2 - St. Patrick's, Soho Square

This magnificent church is another of my favourites in Central London. Located close to Tottenham Court Road tube Station, and Oxford Street, it is somewhere I like to visit when shopping in the West End (or more likely visiting bookshops, such as Foyles, in the nearby Charing Cross Road).

Once again, the parish website has saved me the trouble of writing a history of the church, by including the following:

The history of St Patrick’s is, shall we say, colourful.
In 1690, when only the privileged lived in Soho Square, the Earl of Carlisle established his home here. Around 1760 it was leased by one Mrs Cornelys. An opera singer, serial bankrupt and socialite, she had a child fathered by Cassanova.
Carlisle House became a venue for dazzling soirees, recitals and concerts,. Leading figures including the Prince of Wales gravitated here to satisfy their cultural, musical, and other appetites. However, Mrs Cornelys’ fortunes changed and she was jailed for bankruptcy.
Surrounding Soho Square was the squalid area of ‘The Rookeries’ immortalised so graphically in Hogarth’s picture ‘Gin lane’. This was home to destitute immigrants, many of them Irish. To add to their misery, the anti-Catholic laws denied them the comfort of the sacraments and support of a parish priest.
Occasioned by the Relief Act of 1791, an Irish Franciscan Friar, Father Arthur O’Leary, managed to raise funds to lease Carlisle House with the help of a group of prosperous Irish Catholics who were equally moved by the misery of London’s poor Irish. In 1792, on the 29th of September, St Patrick’s was consecrated, and the existing elegant Italianate building we now know was later built on this site.
St Patrick’s is the first Church in England, at least since the Reformation, dedicated to St Patrick. It was also one of the first Catholic parish Churches established after the passing of the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791, which brought freedom of teaching and worship.
Even in its early days, the church was the scene of several major religious events, most notably the official requiem for the repose of the soul of Pope Pius VI. The annual procession honouring the Tyburn Martyrs stops at St Patrick’s as it makes its way from the Tower of London to Tyburn, as a relic of one of them, Saint Oliver Plunkett, is housed in the Church.

Venerable Fulton Sheen

An important visitor to the church was Archbishop Fulton Sheen [Please see my various posts about Ven. Fulton Sheen - Matthaeus], the first Catholic television evangelist. A regular preacher between the 1920′s and 60′s, he was not only a man of enormous renown but also of great holiness. His cause for beatification has been opened. He often described himself as the “un-appointed curate of the Parish,” and stayed in the Parish House on many occasions. His public talks were so well attended that the congregation would often spill out onto the street.
The church’s patron, St Patrick, was first a foremost a missionary. The missionary endeavour has always been at the very heat of the parish’ desire to evangelise, bring the sacraments, and to prepare their flock for their final meeting with God.
The church still stands close to one of the more 'colourful' areas of London, and its tall tower suggests something of a beacon of hope and goodness in challenging the sleazier aspects of Soho. Until recently, the church was hemmed in by neighbouring buildings, but demolition in the last few years to make way for the Crossrail development mean that it can now be seen from several nearby streets (whether this will remain he case in future is yet to be seen).

Recently, St. Patrick's has undergone a very extensive restoration, the funds for which were raised by the formidable Parish Priest, Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke, without, I understand, recourse to the National Lottery or Government grants.

Fr. Sherbrooke

Following the restoration, the church interior now looks magnificent, with some features, such as the marble floor, intended in the original design but never executed, finally in place.

Interior of St. Patrick's

The sanctuary is arranged to allow Mass to be celebrated either Ad Orientem or versus ad Populum, and is used from time to time for the Usus Atiquior. As an inner city parish serving a diverse community, there are also regular Masses in Spanish and Portugese, and, I believe, also in Cantonese.

The Sanctuary during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament

The restoration also allowed for the provision of meeting rooms and facilities for various parish, community and outreach projects, perhaps most notably the Soho Parish Evangelisation School (SPES).

I conclude with a few further pictures of the church. If you are in London, I strongly recommend a visit to St. Patrick's (perhaps even attending Mass or Benediction). It will provide a welcome respite from West End shopping :-).

Sancte Patricie, ora pro nobis.
The Baptistery
'Ecce Agnus Dei' - Fr. Patrick Hayward CRL celebrates High Mass at Soho Square, assisted by Fr's. Sean Finnegan
and Tim Finigan

The striking statues of welcoming angels which hold the Holy Water stoups.



  1. P.s. (FAO Zephy and others) There are some good pubs and some excellent restaurants in the Soho area, but also rather a lot of dubious (in a variety of ways) places. I would advise anyone wanting a drink after Mass to take the 10 minute walk to 'The Harp' near Charing Cross.


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