Joanna Bogle is Visiting Research Fellow at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, London. She is the author of some twenty books, including several historical biographies and A Book of Seasons and Celebrations with information on traditions and customs marking the Church year. Her most recent book is John Paul II - Man of Prayer with colleague Clare Anderson, exploring the spiritual life of St. John Paul the Great. She broadcasts regularly with EWTN and has recently initiated popular Catholic History Walks around London. She blogs at “Auntie Joanna Writes” and EWTN’s “Catholic Journalist in London”.
Many of London’s famous buildings, including the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London, are floodlit at night. They create a landscape that is world-famous, and the mellow glow of the light on old stones helps to give London its special atmosphere.
Now another building has been added to the list of those favored with this special treatment – and it’s a very unlikely one.
The Church of the Most Precious Blood stands alongside a railway arch on the southern bank of the Thames, in the district known as The Borough. It was built in the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign and is of brown and red brick – perhaps at first sight an unremarkable building. But it is visible from every train that hurries out of London Bridge station heading southwards. And it’s at the heart of a thriving community, with a nightclub opposite, and a whole new range of cafes and restaurants nearby, some of them built into the railway arches.
The floodlighting has been funded in partnership with the London Borough of Southwark and was inaugurated at a street ceremony with the Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Charlie Smith, and the Rector of the parish, Father Christopher Pearson.
“We are thrilled – the lighting has been beautifully designed to show the special features of the church including the two bell towers, and it throws the whole building into relief so that the entire street has an attractive and welcoming feel” said Father Christopher. “The church is a Grade Two listed building – it was built in 1892 – and we applied for lighting under Southwark Council’s ‘Cleaner, Greener, Safer’ (CGS) scheme. This whole area is a vibrant and busy one, and the church is a link back to the 19th century is central to the life of the community here today.”
There is another dimension to Precious Blood church that makes it of special interest to Catholics: It is one of the first churches in Britain to be given into the care of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and with its Sunday School, Evensong, and other Anglican-style traditions, it is forging a new chapter of ecclesiastical history.
Fr. Christopher was formerly vicar of the Anglican parish of St. Agnes in Kennington, and came into full communion with the Catholic Church, with a large group of members of his flock, following the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. The Pope issued a document Anglicanorum Coetibus, inviting Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining elements of their Anglican patrimony – in styles of worship, music, and parish traditions.
Since being given into Ordinariate care, Precious Blood parish has seen a major renewal: Mass attendance has quadrupled, and a children’s choir – singing Latin plainchant and English traditional Mass chants - has been established. There are regular street processions – the next will be a Blessed Sacrament procession marking the Feast of Christ the King at the end of the Church’s year – with children strewing flowers and music broadcast from a loudspeaker. In addition to the large Sunday congregation, there are good numbers for weekday Masses – the church is just across the river from the City’s offices and banks, and is adjacent to the Borough Market with its famous food stalls.
Renovations to the church include redecoration of the baldachino that stands over the high altar – Masses at Precious Blood are eastward-facing – and restoration of some of the sanctuary and wall features that were removed some years ago. The parish has already funded new underfloor heating and a new confessional.
London Bridge was in the headlines earlier this year when it was the scene of a terrorist attack. Pictures of Fr. Christopher serving tea to exhausted policemen went worldwide on the internet.
“We are glad to be a London landmark,” said Fr. Christopher. “Look out for us when you are on a train at London Bridge – or, better still, come and join us for Mass one Sunday!”