Elizabeth and Stephen Usherwood complete their detailing of Britain's Marian shrines in this year of the Mother of God.
THERE were green fields just to the north of Oxford Street, when, in 1844, the Society of Jesus laid there the foundation stone of the present Church of the Immaculate Conception; yet so farseeing was Jesuit vision that it was planned to seat 1,000 worshippers and perform the liturgy in a Gothic setting where every architectural feature, every detail of the furnishing should be a reminder that Catholicism, banned in England for almost three centuries, had lost nothing of its intellectual and artistic vigour.
Here are gorgeous mosaics depicting the Annunciation and the Coronation of the Virgin, an altar and reredos by Augustus Pugin and modern glass over the porch by the Irish artist Evie Hone.
Another great church of the same period, but in the wholly different Italian Baroque style, is that of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After emancipation the Oratorians, with their commitment to preaching, prayer and the ministration of the sacraments, worked in a disused brewery near Charing Cross before moving to the village of Brompton.
Massive columns of Devonshire marble, supporting the ceiling of their church, draw the eye towards the altar where the emblem of Mary's heart glows at the centre of a golden sunburst.
The names of numerous churches and districts in London bear witness to the love medieval citizens felt for the Mother of God. One of their great delights was to visit her shrines and holy wells in the surrounding countryside, such as Ladywell on the Ravensbourne in Kent, Muswell on the northern hills, and Willesden to the west, with its Lady Well near the parish church.
At the Reformation mobs frightened pilgrims away, but in 1907, devotion to Our Lady of Willesden having revived, Pope Pius X granted a plenary indulgence to those visiting the shrine.
During an outbreak of antiCatholic hysteria in 1780, when the followers of Lord George Gordon did vast damage, the Austrian embassy chapel in Warwick Street, where English Catholics secretly attended Mass, was wrecked. The restored chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory is now a small church of outstanding beauty with a Coronation of the Virgin in mosaic, an Assumption by the Irish sculptor J B Carew, and an apse designed by J F Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral.
Eleven years after the Gordon Riots a number of refugees from the French Revolution, accompanied by their priests, came to Hampstead, and in 1816, prior to the emancipation of British Catholics, built a church in Holly Place. Above its porch is a statue of the Virgin; over the altar a painting of the assumption; in the Lady Chapel a nativity in modern mosaic; and in the Blessed Sacrament chapel St Joseph, with the Infant Jesus in his arms, is a reminder that they sought shelter in a foreign land.
Later, French immigrants founded the parish of Notre Dame de France close to Soho. Their church, destroyed by bombs in the second world war, has been entirely rebuilt. Illuminated by the light of heaven shining through a glass roof, an Aubusson tapestry, designed by Dom Robert of Buckfast, hangs above the altar; the Lady Chapel was executed by Jean Cocteau as a thankoffering for the hospitality shown to French refugees in the second world war.
When the sisters of the Holy Child Jesus returned to their war-damaged convent in Cavendish Square (now Heythrop College) they invited Epstein, a contemporary of Cocteau, to adorn the re-built entrance.
He created a magnificent bronze in which the Holy Child, shielded by his mother, gazes out into eternity, arms outstretched as if anticipating the Crucifixion.
By the 14th century the royal law courts and other offices of State were established at Westminster, and those, including the reigning monarch, who resided there regularly expressed devotion to Our Lady of Power (Pewe) at two richly endowed shrines, one in the Chapel of St Stephen where parliament met, and the other at the Abbey itself. Today Westminster Cathedral is linked with this ancient devotion.