Tuesday, 27 August 2013

London Churches 5 - St. Anselm and St. Caecilia, Kingsway

Exterior of the church on a very busy Kingsway

This beautiful church is located near to Holborn tube station, and is another with a historic association with an embassy chapel.

Church Interior

The following history of the church consists of extracts from 'The Church of St. Anselm and St. Caecilia - A Short History' by John K.A. Farrell, and is taken from the parish's section of the Westminster diocesan website:

The Church of St Anselm and St Cæcilia stands rooted in a past which reaches back three hundred years. The present building, erected in 1909, is very much part of the famous Kingsway development of the Edwardian era. On 6th July, 1909, the last Mass was celebrated in the old Chapel of the Royal Sardinian Embassy. From the early nineteenth century, however, the Chapel had become quite openly, what it had been quietly and illegally for some time before, the parish church for British Catholics who lived in the congested area around Lincoln's Inn Fields. Known as the Sardinian Chapel from 1720, this nomenclature was last used in 1852. In 1853, the Chapel was called after its titular saint, Anselm, and in 1861, the Pastor, Father William O'Connor, added St Cæcilia as the second patron. The Chapel bore this double dedication to a saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, and a virgin martyr of the early church until its destruction in 1909. The present church, successor to the historic chapel, proudly retained the protection of St Anselm and St Cæcilia. Although the old chapel, which, with the Embassy, was an integral part of Lincoln's Inn Fields. was demolished in conformity to the London County Council's plans for the new Kingsway (indeed many seventeenth and eighteenth century buildings in the area disappeared between 1905 and 1910), the memories and traditions of the Sardinian Chapel still cluster about its successor.
The present Church of St Anselm and St Cæcilia preserves some of the architectural style of the old Chapel. In addition, it contains some striking reminders of the former Sardinian Chapel. Above the side entrance to the south on an interior wall reposes the Royal Sardinian coat-of-arms. Tradition maintains that the Lady Altar was the High Altar of the old Chapel. During the Blitz, on Wednesday 11th September, 1940 at about 1am, the south part of the Church was bombed with the result that the Lady Altar and the south aisle were damaged. After the war, the ruined chapel and altar were restored. In the church hangs a large painting of the Descent from the Cross reputed by Charles Heckthorn to have been painted by Benjamin West. Rudolph Ackermann, however, felt that the painting had been done by John Marcus Rigaud, RA. In either case, the prevailing opinion is that it was made to replace the altar piece destroyed in the Gordon Riots. In the old Chapel, it hung above the High Altar. 
According to an old parchment, which may date from around 1700, the altar stone of the High Altar in the old Chapel, and now in the Lady Altar of the present Church came with its relics from the Lady Chapel of Glastonbury Abbey. Nothing else has yet come to light to substantiate the document. With such treasures from its past, the Church of St Anselm and St Cæcilia is forever reminded that it is the living memorial of three centuries of struggle to maintain the Catholic presence in the area of Lincoln's Inn Fields. In a very real way, the present Church, situated as it is in the heart of the student and tourist district of Holborn and Bloomsbury, continues the ancient tradition of hospitality established by the earlier Sardinian Chapel, of a prayerful haven to all who enter.

The Lady Altar

This is another church which is nice to call into for a brief time of prayer and peace, and respite from the busy London streets.

Sancte Anselm, ora pro nobis.
Sancta Caecilia, ora pro nobis.

On a slight aside, if you are in the area, I would also recommend a visit to one of my favourite museums, the Sir John Soane Museum in nearby Lincolns Inn Fields. This is located in what was this Georgian architect's own home, and posesses many interesting and eclectic architectural, archaeoloical and artistic items.


  1. ...And before Zephyrinus asks, I have never been to any pubs near here. This isn't far from Maiden Lane, however, so same hostalries would apply.

    There used to be an excellent outoor cafe in the 'park' in Lincolns Inn Fields, which claimed to make 'the best tea in London', but I have not been there for a long time and don't know if it is still in business.

    There is a McDonalds opposite Holborn Station, if all else fails.

  2. I used to attend this Church back in the early 60s when my family had a pub in St Giles High Street (The Angel).
    Last stopping off point for the martrys before Tyburn.

  3. Richard,

    Thanks for the additional information. I hadn't thought about the Tyburn Martyrs, but, of course the church is very near to the route along which they would have been taken from Newgate (near the present Old Bailey) to the execution site at what is now Marble Arch.

    I have looked up the Angel in St. Giles, and it would appear still to be an extant pub. I have never been in there, but may have a look when I am next in the area.


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