ROMAN CATHOLIC churches in this country, by and large, enjoy little of the reputation of the great Anglican cathedrals or the handsome medieval parish churches that are such a loved feature of our landscape. There are, of course, odd exceptions, such as the fabulous St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place, on the border of the City of London, once the chapel attached to the London palace of the Bishop of Ely, and acquired by the Rosminian order in 1873.
But with “church tourism” on the rise, especially when the staycation is now mandatory, Elena Curti, a former deputy editor of The Tablet, has picked out a collection of 50 gems to tempt even the most discerning visitor. Some are familiar (Farm Street, the Jesuit HQ in Mayfair, designed by J. J. Scoles, with the high altar by A. W. N. Pugin, fresh from his work on the Palace of Westminster); others were unknown to me, like Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s honey-coloured-stone Our Lady and St Alphege, in Bath, modelled on the 12th-century Santa Maria in Cosmedin, in Rome.
© Ampleforth AbbeyAn arch is a double-fronted altarpiece at Ampleforth Abbey. From the book
Curti brilliantly mixes the more obvious choices — the drum-shaped St Mary’s, Leyland, by Jerzy Faczynski, and the 14-sided Church of the Blessed Sacrament, in Gorseinon, near Swansea, by Robert Robinson, which respectively inspired and were inspired by Frederick Gibberd’s stunning Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral — with ones that especially move her, such as St Peter the Apostle, at Gorleston-on-Sea, in Norfolk, Eric Gill’s only complete building.
As a guide, Curti’s text and tone are pitch-perfect. History, architecture, art, local quirks, and eccentric individuals fill every page, alongside beautiful colour illustrations. Her book is already sitting with Simon Jenkins’s in our car glove compartment, ready for our next “churching” day out.
Peter Stanford is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster.
Fifty Catholic Churches to See Before You Die
Church Times Bookshop £13.50