Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Feast of St. James at Spanish Place

Today is the Feast of St. James the Greater. Every year on this feast day I think of the quip of my mother regarding my late father when deciding which was his patron saint, St. James the Greater or St. James the Lesser? She said immediately: "St. James THE Great". I certainly hope and pray that my father is a saint in heaven today.

In London, the parish of St. James Spanish Place is celebrating not only the patronal feast day but its 125th anniversary! From the parish's history page:

The visitor to St James's Church is often puzzled to know why a church which stands in George Street, W1, should have derived a kind of secondary title from a street called Spanish Place which can be found opposite the Presbytery door. The explanation is that St James's, Spanish Place, like so many of the older parishes in the Westminster diocese, can trace its origin to the penal times and to the benefactions of a friendly Catholic embassy. And this is perhaps the reason why, despite the magnificence of the church, there is within an atmosphere that breathes our Catholic past.

In the reign of Elizabeth I the Bishops of Ely let their palace and chapel in Ely Place to the Spanish Ambassador, and until the reign of Charles I it was occupied by the representative of the Court of Spain. During this period the chapel was freely used by English Catholics and became a place of sanctuary for them.

After the restoration of Charles II the Spanish Embassy was re-established in London, first on Ormond Street and then at Hartford house, Manchester Square, where the Wallace Collection is now housed. Here, in 1791, shortly after the first repeal of some of the laws affecting Catholic worship, a chapel was built on the corner of Spanish Place and Charles Street (now George Street), largely through the efforts of DOctor Thomas Hussey who had been a chaplain at the Embassy since his ordination in 1769. Most of the objects of piety in the present church are legacies from this older building which was famous enough in its day to be mentioned by Thackeray in
Vanity Fair as the church attended by the Marchioness of Steyne. . . .

In the year 1827 the official Spanish connection with the chapel ceased and it was handed over to the London Vicariate. However, there is much in the present church to remind us of our Spanish heritage including Alfonso XIII's personal standard which is in a frame over the sacristy door, and the parishioners of Spanish Place have never forgotten their debt to Spain for having established and maintained the mission in the dark days. An unofficial connection with the Embassy of Spain has continued and is still cherished by the Church of St James today. . . .

The site was purchased and the design for a new church was made an open competition. Edward Goldie, great grandson of the architect of the old chapel, Signor Joseph Bonomi, won the competition and the present edifice, partially completed, was opened on Michaelmas Day, 1890.

Happy Feast of St. James! St. James, pray for us!

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