Page 12, 30th November 1979

30th November 1979
Page 12
Page 12, 30th November 1979 — Full in the panting heart of Brighton

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Locations: Rome, Brighton, Wellington


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Full in the panting heart of Brighton


YOU can have the city of Rome if you leave me Bright on . Brighton has the advantage of a doubtlessly bracing sea front. Otherwise there are certain points of similarity. Both have a lot of pillars and pilasters.

Both are handsome. Both are eccentric. Both are vastly entertaining. Rome has the Via Veneto; Brighton has Hove. Both are plagued with mean crime though there is so much to do in Brighton that the delinquency of youth cannot here be blamed on their being nothing for them to do in the evening. Both are crowded with churches and both are specialised religious centres, that at Brighton being once known as the Brighton and South Coast Religion after the railway line that once served It.

This is a particularly ritualistic form of Anglican worship that has adopted the more baroque forms of the Roman liturgy. They were also the people who restored to the Anglican Church its care for the poor and the uninfluential and they brought splendour to slums and sent many a lonely woman back to her bed-sit on Sunday having touched her with glory. It is a most graceless thing for a Catholic to laugh at or resent them for emulating our customs and polities.

Brighton has a peculiar history. At about 1800 there was only one church. What there was were proprietory chapels. These were frankly clerical investments. An ordained clergyman would open a private chapel and charge pew rents and subscriptions and if he were a good preacher he became a fairly expensive form of Sunday entertainment — for the well-todo. Some of them even excluded the liveried servants of the rich.

Then along came the Wagner family. I urn told that they came over as hatters to the Hanovarian court and became immensely rich.

With a boost from the Duke of Wellington, three generations of them became vicars of or in Brighton. They started as "middle stump" Anglicans and ended, in the Revd Arthur Douglas Wagner, in changing, the ecclesiastical landscape of Brighton.

Only a hundred years ago the taint of popery was genuinely and popularly hated and some of the Catholicisers got into fearful trouble. A few even went to prison for breaking the laws about church practice. A. D: Wagner's worst experience was probably that with Constance Kent in 1865. At the age of 16 she murdered her halfbrother who was four. She was tried and for want of evidence was discharged.

She came under Father Wagner's influence and

confessed that she had killed. He told her that she was bound to inform the civil authorities. He took her to Bow Street. She was tried. She got penal servitude for life.

Ile refused to give evidence at her trial under the seal of confession. It was regarded as a clear case of a Papist sort of corruption of the innocent.

A. D. Wagner was stoned, set upon by rogues, and had his windows byoken. More than that it beearne known that Miss Kent had tried to give him £1,000 for his causes. Wisely he had refused and he survived.

Spangled lace and tiers of angels

Ills FATHER made him priest-in-charge of St. Paul's in Brighton. This was a new gothic church opened in 1848. Archdeacon Manning, at the time a favourite for the highest promotion in the Established Church, preached on the occasion. Later he poped and was made Cardinal. A. D. Wagner took it over in 1850.

Unless you are in the know, you might pass it by. It has been hemmed in by the worst excesses of the Brighton planners and is loomed at by a multi-storey car park. Though it has few resident parishoners, it flourishes. And you can see why.

Basically it is decent, bare gothic revival. But they have flung a great rood screen across it and beyond it at the end of a long choir. there is a rich high altar, looking mysterious and splendid behind wrought iron gates.

Here they obey almost all the rules of the Second Vatican Council. They have built a new free standing altar in front of the rood screen. It is on a massive scale at the top of steps. It has

gorgeous fronials and an antique French communion rail all around it.

Two side altars have precious painted reredos. There is more spangled lace than you might find on our altars. There is a Victorian masterpiece of a lectern made up of tiers of brass angels with the last and highest of them in the act of incensing.

The tiny thurible used to be a working model but some sneak thief nicked it. They have, like everyone else, to keep the church locked unless there is someone there.

In summer it is a minor tourist attraction its well as a place of prayer. There are stained glass windows to SS Thomas More and John Fisher in the porch. They can turn out a full choir and orchestra which do Mozart and Hayden rather than Stanford in A.

I was staying withthe vicar and slipped in for his early Eucharist. I am always vividly aware of the apparent discourtesy of one's non-participation — but rules are rules, or most of them are.

It was a week day, eight o'clock in the morning and there were about eight people and a server at the side altar.

Only here and there was a phrase just very slightly different.

Fr. Milburn — I will not use the inverted commas — wore a maniple, which many of you have never heard of.

Someone bothered to come to the back of the church to give me the kiss of peace, which I returned. I heard no cocks crowing but felt the prickling of a social conscience at my ritual stuffiness to a most civilised and busy vicar who had treated me with a more than Roman hospitality.

Another Brighton church is St. Bartholemew's. From the same stable. This is not Gothic but sort of Early Roman basilica. It is vast. It towers in brick red over the town like a stranded ark and it is said to have been built to the measurements of the Ark. No wonder Noah got so much inside.

It used to be famous for its liturgy which was accompanied by a large choir and orchestra — with drums. It has a silver fronted altar. It has a huge bakiehino over the High Altar of almost Petrine proportions. .1-he confessionals look like off shoots of the Royal Pavilion.

It used to be packed. especially in the late 20s, when without support from bishops. the tide seemed to be turning in the Anglo-Catholic favour.

Here you could hardly see for the incense which was sometimes whirled around in cartwheels. This is not to be recommended. It sometimes makes the charcoal burst into flames and would never be allowed by Fire Prevention °Myers. The clergy Wore birettas and the congregation left to the tune of sonic morceau like the Grand March from Aida.

The Brighton city planners — whose speciality is killing geese that lay golden eggs — were appalled by the height of this church which caused a down draught that made local chimneys smoke. D. A. Wagner bought the affected houses and cut their rents and there were no more complaints.

But they refused permission for a similar church. So this. the Church of the Resurrection, was largely excavated. Entrance was by a grand staircase going down. But the damp won in the end and when last I read of it, it was a meat freezing depot.

So there are more things to

Brighton than two piers, an aquarium, a mad palace, a still glorious water front and a rather raffish reputation.

The three rings of Mrs Fitzherbert

ONE of the Catholic churches in Brighton is of overwhelming interest. St John the Baptist's is elegantly built in the style of a temple, a massive one. It has a pillared porch which opens onto what was once a great, gentlemanly room where you could as well have held a hunt ball as attended Mass.

It was the first Catholic church built in Brighton after the Reformation and was consecrated by a real bishop in 1835. lt is older than that,

Though secluded, it is not humble, In the late 19th Century, they added an extraordinary and completely contradictory, threeatsled sanctuary on to the end. It sounds odd. The result is Spectacular. There is the plain great chamber and then at the end there is this explosion of aisles and altars and colours and arcades.

To make this they had to remove a statue of the church's patron, the Baptist, baptising Christ. It stands now, very cool and calm in an 'alcove.

There is a wild choir loft of enchanting oddnes.s and, all in all, it is one of the pleasantest of our churches in England.

When I went in, a group of about twenty were sitting in three rows murmuring Lauds which are now the morning prayers of the church. Roughly it consists of three psalms, scripture readings, the Benedictus and some in The priests of the parish used to do it regularly among themselves and then the laity asked if they could join in and sometimes there are rows of them. old and young. priests and nuns and they know the drill! It's not the least bit theatrical and is as natural as prayer. I'd never seen it before anywhere.

There was a minor tumult in the sacristy where innumerable taw boys were getting ready to prepare for the main Mass of the day (still a week day). They hehaved like rabbits lolloping round a burrow and seemed as happy as a load of Larries.

But it was not for this that I had come to this magnificent Church. There is a small square stone in

the centre or the aisle that announced it covered the vault of Maria Fitzherbert.

On the wall of the nave is a rather clumsy memorial carving of a handsome and commanding woman, large, not fat, kneeling in prayer. Her left hand hangs by her side and on it are three wedding rings.

She was thrice married, the last time to the Prince Regent. She was one of the fine flowers of the recusancy and she was largely responsible for the building of this church.

Whenever I have to or choose to write about Mrs Fitzherbert, which is often, I always get at least one fact wrong. 1r you care about this honourable woman or arc interested in this extraordinary royal marriage, Father Robert Bogan has written a most exact account of the legal and the canonical background to this love between a sad and vulgar roue and a good woman of the politically and legally wrong faith. It's called Three Wedding Rings.

It will cost you a quid, including postage from the church shop across the road. This is called Bernadette's, Bristol Road, Brighton, Sussex. But go and see the place anyway. It is one of Brighton's many and more sober delights.

A bastion against nuns

I see that the town planning committee of Bournemouth has rejected the application of some unruly gaggle of nuns to buy a small hotel and turn it into a convent with a public chapel attached.

The estate agent who acted in the sale of the hotel said, "-I-he nuns are very disappointed. The planning committee felt that people turning up for Mass at six o'clock in the morning and slamming ear doors would upset people living nearby." There are moments of reassurement when one knows that there is nothing basically wrung with England. As long as there are planning committees like this to watch over our interests, England will remain itself.

The people of Southbourne Road in Bournemouth can now sleep sale and secure in their beds o'nights, knowing that the planning committee with its great grey wings outstretched is hovering over their morals and mental health.

For who indeed wants a pack of rovidy nuns in a hitherto respectable street? And those hordes, literally hordes, of people going to the six am. Mass every day, some of them Irish, all with those clangorous car doors for which Catholics arc notorious, shouting to each other in the dawn darkness unsuitable greetings.

But its worse than that, The Order concerned is that of the Hand Maids of the Sacred Heart and if there are any real hand maids going. Bournemouth has need of them in her basement kitchens. ns.

T of the religious excesses that will disturb Southbourne Road! F.verytime a nun dies — the Verdi Requiem and who can sleep through that or watch the wrestling on the box?

There may be the alien scent of incense caught in the laurel bushes. And the nuns are unlikely to justify themselves by boosting trade as much as an hotel. Also they may dress funny. And goodness knows what their family backgrounds are.

I am not at all bigotted. I believe that when members of planning committees die they all become Roman Catholics.

They had to do their duty and, by George, they've done it. Whether or no they have since changed their minds, I cannot say. I somehow did not want to telephone them.

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