Italian Anglicanism

John Betjeman, the English poet, architectural historian, eccentric and nostalgiarian stated that some of the best Victorian architecture he’d come across was in Australia. “Betjeman in Australia”, a co-production between the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, made in 1971 is a result of the great man’s love affair with things Victorian.

I only wish Betjeman had been able to make a film about Victorian Anglican churches in Italy, for there are some wonderful examples here.

I have made this “database” of Anglican (or ex-Anglican) churches in Italy below which might be of interest to those who are nostalgic about Evensong, carol concerts, oak panelling, lancet windows, pre-Raphaelite decorations or Willis organs:

CHURCH

DATE

LOCATION

ARCHITECT

STYLE

CURRENT USE

SPECIAL NOTES

All Saints 1839 Via Whipple, Bagni di Lucca Pardini Gothic Public library Oldest Anglican church in Italy
Anglican church 1863 Bordighera ? Romanesque Arts centre
Christchurch 1865 Via San Pasquale, Naples Thomas Smith & son Gothic Anglican worship
Church of the Holy Cross 1875 Via Roma, Palermo Henry Christian Gothic Anglican worship
Saint Mark 1880 Via Maggio, Florence Tooth Gothic and Arts & Crafts Anglican worship Concerts and exhibitions
Saint Paul within the Walls 1880 Via Nazionale Rome G. E.  Street Romanesque Gothic Anglican worship Burne-Jones mosaics
All Saints 1882 Via del Babuino, Rome G.E. Street Gothic Anglican worship
Saint George 1892 Dorsoduro, Venice Restructured from existing palace Renaissance Anglican worship T. H. Walker organ (1903) restored in 2003
Saint George 1902 Via Costaguta Rapallo ? Romanesque Completely restored For sale at 3 million euros Max Beerbohm’s funeral here  in 1956
Saint James 1911 Orti Oricellari Mazzanti Gothic Anglican (episcopal) worship New Willis organ installed 2009    David Bowie married here

There’s also another anglican church at Viareggio dating from 1909 but which is now a (not very recommendable) pizzeria.

What’s interesting about this is that, out of the eleven churches, seven are still used for Anglican worship (under the diocese of Gibraltar (!)). A 66% figure for continued Anglican worship abroad is remarkable when it is considered that in London alone less than half of Victorian churches built are still in use or even standing!

All the ten Anglican churches in Italy are sited in locations of diplomatic (Rome), commercial (Palermo), or holidaying (Bagni di Lucca, Bordighera etc.) importance.

By the early nineteenth century Bagni di Lucca had become a resort, and even permanent residence, for many British people, rather like Spain’s Costa Brava or France’s Dordogne are today. Colonel Stisted, a distinguished resident, decided, therefore, to initiate a project to build an Anglican church accommodating requests for a permanent place for Sunday worship. In 1839, Charles of Bourbon, Duke of Lucca, gave Stisted permission to build the “Palace of the English Nation,” the name by which he preferred to call the building to avoid offending the Catholic clergy.

The work was entrusted to Luccan architect Giuseppe Pardini (who also built the triangular ex-hotel de Russie in Ponte a Serraglio where once best-selling author Ouida used to stay, the Casinò Reale and the bridge at the Ospedale Demidoff where the global village is now). Pardini designed a building hearkening back to the “gothick” style of the eighteenth century where (as at Walpole’s “Strawberry Hill” in Twickenham, London) gothicky motifs and decorations are applied to a classically proportioned building.

Bagni di Lucca’s Anglican Church is, therefore, exceptional for three reasons:

  1. It is the first purpose-built building for Anglican worship in Italy (and another first for Tuscany which also was the first region in Europe to abolish the death penalty on 30th November 1786 – a fact celebrated in the region’s celebration day yesterday).
  2. Because protestant worship places could not look too obviously like churches, the gothic style favoured by most protestant churches is applied onto a renaissance-style palazzo!
  3. The church was officially named the “Palace of the English nation”; again to make it less obvious that it was a place of (to Roman Catholics then) heretically considered worship.

After 1861, when Italy became one country, secular government policies allowed Anglican churches to be fully visible and, therefore, built in entirely neo-gothic style with spires and towers. This means that many of the Anglican churches in other areas will actually be recognizable as such! For example, Palermo’s Anglican Church (the city where we stayed at the end of 2011) looks definitely like one and would not be at all out of place in some English rural village, although in Palermo it looks a bit odd!

800px-Palermo-Chiesa-Anglicana-bjs2007-01

Debra Kolkka has an informative and extensively illustrated post on Bagni di Lucca’s church, now the local library, at http://bellabagnidilucca.com/2012/02/18/the-english-church-in-bagni-di-lucca/ .

The following photographs will therefore supplement hers. Again, it is fortunate that the church is still standing, although now dedicated to a secular purpose. The last Anglican Church service was held there in 1951 and then the building was allowed to decay. I do feel that the stained glass windows and some of the wall decorations should have a minimum of restoration applied to them.

If one wants to do some research or just plain reading on a wet and miserable winter’s afternoon there is nothing to beat a place like Bagni’s Bibliotheca Comunale which is managed under the highly capable hands of Ms Angela Amadei.

Sometimes, when browsing tomes among the unremembered commemoration plaques adorning the library’s walls I seem to hear ghostly chants of psalms and hymns of bygone congregations and even feel the swish of chasubles and surplices sweeping the floor…

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One thought on “Italian Anglicanism

  1. very erudite and enjoyable post. is’nt history a wonderful thing? I must make time next time visit the anglican church in BDL. I wonder if there’s a local history group in BDL? It’d be fascinating just to sit back and listen to a presentation on BDL’s history. You would be ideally placed to do this Francis.

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