Monday, 3 January 2011


My second parish as assistant priest was the Sacred Heart church in Hove. This is perhaps the loveliest church I have ever served in. It was built in the 1880s, (by Crawley then Hansom), and almost everything is beautiful. Eric Gill and Caryll Houselander were both received into the Church there. Its only drawback was that the original sanctuary was rather small, and so in the mid 1950s the parish priest, with infinite pains, extended it. The remarkable alabaster altar rails, for instance, were copied and extended at what must have been vast expense.

Come the liturgical changes a few years later, the same parish priest believed himself required to make further changes to the sanctuary. This time, instead of the infinite care the same man took a handful of years before, it appears that he got come cowboy builders to take a couple of sledge hammers to the high altar, built some cheap wooden staging and steps out into the sanctuary, and roughly slapped together such bits of the old high altar as survived the mauling to make a forward altar. The gradine behind was patched with some marble and had a couple of other bits of the old altar glued onto it.

What a strange contrast of approach. The first time, no trouble was too much. The second, any trouble was too much.


Laura said...

I guess his heart just wasn't in the second re-ordering.

Anonymous said...

Some of the most interesting works of Catholic architecture and design are those which cusped the opening and conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Some had to be redesigned half way through, others, like the Sacred Heart, Hove, had been carefully re-furnished a few years previously.

The second happened throughout the country. One instance was St Thomas of Canterbury, West Hill, Wandsworth, where a Canon took enormous pains to have the sanctuary refurnished according to the rubrics current in 1958 as interpreted by Fr O'Connell.

Within seven years this had to be largely dismantled but he kept the massive stone high altar, detached it from the reredos, and moved it into the centre of the sanctuary. It nearly broke his heart to do it, but he believed in obedience.

St Thomas's never looked quite right thereafter and the altar has been removed during the last three years, and replaced by an anodyne substitue. I wonder if the priest you mention in Hove had a similar reaction.

Rubricarius said...

Were you able to reverse any of the second re-ordering?

Pastor in Monte said...

As the curate, there was very little I personally could do but encourage the then parish priest, a very good man who was a little less advanced (by which I mean traditional) in his views than I. We placed a wooden mensa on the bleeding stump of the altar which gave enough space and more dignity to it, and enabled a frontal to be hung before it. And we rescued the statue of the Sacred Heart from on top of the font and placed it in the sanctuary (thus also rescuing the baptistery).

Adulio said...

Reading this cannot but make me wonder if there was something almost diabolical about the re-ordering of sanctuaries that took place after the council.

pelerin said...

The re-ordering was like a second Reformation - out went anything which looked at all 'Catholic.' I remember when another statue of the Sacred Heart was 'rescued' in one of my old parishes. It had languished in the bell tower for years banished from sight until at last it was restored in a place of honour.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Our Lady of Peace, Braintree ,Essex, was the last church to be consecrated before the outbreak of WWII. Its fine baldachino and sanctuary arrangements were illustrated by his own drawing by PF Anson in one of his books on church architecture. Alas, all gone, as is the lovely work of the Guild at Ditchling in the church of St. Wilfred, Burgess Hill, Sussex.

Rubricarius said...


Well, at least you tried to do something positive about it - good for you. I have heard many cases where PPs have tried to bring beauty and order back, often with money from their own pockets, to be moved on by bishops etc.

The worst re-ordering I ever heard about was St. George's Sudbury. Fr. Clement Russell had built a beautiful and liturgically minded interior. It survived for many years after his death in the mid-1960s. I saw the church in 1992 the morning before I visited a dying friend in a hospice. My friend had told me about the church, and Fr. Russell, and was delighted to learn it was still fine. My freind died a week or so later and St. George's was gutted of its exquisite interior within eighteen months.