Tuesday, 25 July 2006

One Night in Liverpool

Just back from my brief visit to the Catholic Record Society Conference at Liverpool Hope University. Before catching my train I had a very enjoyable lunch with the Prior of Downside and a simply professed Knight of Malta.

The highlight of the conference (so far) was a talk by Dr Peter Leech about the Roman Catholic Chapel of King James II at Whitehall (1686-88). During the brief years of his reign, James had a separate Roman Catholic establishment at Court. At Midnight Mass 1686 the King’s new Catholic Chapel was officially opened at Whitehall. Designed by Christopher Wren, with interior carvings in stone and wood by Grinling Gibbons and paintings by Benedetto Gennari and Antonio Verrio, it was one of the most lavish ecclesiastical buildings in England to be built after the Reformation. The maestro di cappella was the Italian composer Innocentio Fede (born circa 1661) from a famous musical family who dominated music in Rome in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.

Sadly the chapel was destroyed in the great Whitehall fire during the reign of Queen Anne, but much of its contents have survived – the organ case is in St James’, Piccadilly, some of the sculpted angels are in the church at Burnham-on-Sea (Somerset) and Gennari’s Annunciation altarpiece is at the Ringling Museum of Art, Florida.

The Conference numbered about 60 people. I was asked to be principal celebrant at the Mass this morning in the University Chapel. In looking for the sacristy, I accidentally stumbled into the Muslim prayer room! The Mass had two ‘firsts’ for me – the first (and last) time I’ve celebrated the holy mysteries with a pebble arrangement on the altar and the first time I’ve been the principal celebrant with a bishop concelebrating (not theologically ideal, I know, but I did ask the bishop whether he wanted to be chief celebrant instead).

PS I also popped into the famous R.C. Metropolitan Cathedral (above) - not my style but there is, at least, a prayerful atmosphere inside (unlike the Anglican one down the road).


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