AN ANGLICAN ADVENTURE: The history of St George's Anglican Church in Paris

by
02 November 2006

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St George’s Anglican Church £10

SIEGE, starvation, pillage (twice), three locations and two rebuildings, Nazi occupation, a list of the famous in its congregation, and a string of characterful clergy — St George’s in Paris has known more excitements than most Anglican parish churches in the past 180 years.

It traces its history back to 1824, when the British residents who had flooded into Paris after the defeat of Napoleon had so outgrown the ballroom of the Embassy for their church services that the Ambassador’s chaplain, the Revd Lewis Way, looked for a separate building. He settled on the Hôtel Marbeuf, whose previous owner, an elderly marquise, had been guillotined. After an exchange of letters be-tween the English and the French kings, the Marbeuf Chapel became the first Anglican church in Paris.

In a slim, privately published volume, the Revd Matthew Harrison recounts its quite extraordinary history until the present day. When, after 20 years, the church had to move because the city fathers were altering the layout of the streets, Mr Way’s son bought another site close to the Champs-Elysées. The new chapel was described as “of the plainest possible description . . . hard by a cow stable, of which, on hot summer days, we were unmistakably made aware”.

When Francis Pigou became curate in 1856, the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Mary, who was the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, were members of the congregation.

Then came the siege of Paris through the autumn and winter of 1870-71. Four thousand British remained in Paris, and shared the suffering. The new Chaplain, the Revd Dr Smyth, and two laymen did much to alleviate it. Richard Wallace (of the Wallace Collection in London) gave huge sums of money, and funded two field hospitals, one for the British, the other for French soldiers. Dr Alan Herbert instituted weekly rationing for the English community: 2oz meat extract, 1lb rice, 8-12 lbs of bread, and one franc.

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The siege was followed by violent anti-clericalism, more pillaging, and a further siege; and many of the British residents quitted Paris, which left the chapel in dire financial straits.

Happier times came with the decision to build a worthier church. Richard Wallace was again the driving force, and the foundation stone of “old St George’s” was laid in 1887 on the site of the present church in the rue Auguste Vacquerie.

The new church was high in both senses — Victorian Gothic Anglo-Catholic. It was that church, with its colourful chaplains and curates (including Father Cardew and his ministry to English dancing-girls), which survived two World Wars and the Nazi occupation. It also became the centre for Anglican-Roman Catholic ecumenism.

But the building had its prob-lems, and in 1973 the decision was taken to demolish and build the present underground church, with hall and flats above. It thrives; and on most Sundays of the year its congregation provides one of the best-value lunches in Paris.

An Anglican Adventure is available from the Chaplaincy Office, 7 rue Auguste Vacquerie, 75116 Paris (£9.50 post free); and from the SPCK Bookshop, Faith House, Tufton Street, London SW1.

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