Old church of St Mary, Ipswich
St Anthony, 1827
Our Lady of Grace, 1838
Parish Hall 1976
|The great anti-Catholic hysteria in
England lasted a little over two hundred years. The
Elizabethan state machinery gave it birth in the later
years of the 16th century, successfully turning the
popular religion of the English into a foreign thing, to
be feared and despised. During these early years, those
who had retained the Catholicism of their forefathers
were penalised, and increasingly persecuted, until
practice of the Faith was itself punishable by a grisly
|They met with a broadly sympathetic
welcome, not least because the English State was living
in fear of a Revolution itself.
However, there was something else; it was only nine years since hundreds of innocent Catholics had been killed in the London pogrom of 1780, the so-called Gordon Riots. In reaction, there had been a thawing of the hysteria; a new warmth, born, perhaps, out of shame.
|He bought five acres of land on Albion
Hill, part of the heathland of what was then the eastern
outskirts of town. The Woodbridge road ran beside it, and
Pere Simon built a cottage, set back from this road. Its
neighbours were an 18th century house to the east, and
the Albion Mills to the north and west. Inside the house,
he prepared a chapel, the first permanent home for the
Blessed Sacrament in Ipswich since the Reformation.
Eventually, when the time was right, he extended the
cottage eastwards by building a church.
|The sanctuary was built to the south,
with the other end of the church forming the main
entrance, a liturgically west front onto Woodbridge Road.
Because the new church was so close to the road, the
windows had to be protected with iron railings, so that
the congregation could not be stoned during Mass.
The new church was consecrated on 10th October 1838, and dedicated to Our Lady of Grace. This was the dedication of the pre-Reformation shrine of Our Lady of Ipswich, destroyed by the state authorities in 1538, exactly 300 years before. Our Lady of Grace marked the return of the Church to Suffolk in all its glory, and it is a pity that the dedication was reduced in common usage to simply St Mary.
The sanctuary at Christmas in the early 1970s. The altar rails now front the seats in the new church, and the crucifix is above the new church altar. The stained glass was dispersed, the other fittings now lost.
|And then, Pere Simon died. His friend
Margaret Wood followed, shortly after. But they had done
enough to re-establish the Faith in Ipswich.
The story of the Catholic revival in England is a well-known one; suffice to say, Ipswich shared in its ups and downs. From 60,000 Catholics in England at the time of the 1778 act, there were more than a million by 1850. Ipswich experienced a similar growth in its Catholic population; after the death of Pere Simon, it was served by priests from Bury and Withermarsh Green for a few years. And then in 1850, the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy placed the town in the Diocese of Northampton. The new Bishop appointed a permanent Parish Priest, Father Kemp, in 1854. He established a second Mass centre in the Parish in 1860, right in the centre of town. This was St Pancras, and it was built right in the most populous part of St Mary's Parish, the Rope Walk/Cox Lane slum area. In a much more confident red-brick Gothic style than its mother church, it is in fact only part of what was planned by its exuberant architect, George Goldie, to be the Cathedral of a future Diocese of East Anglia.
1860 was also the year that the Religious of Jesus and Mary arrived in England, from their base in Lyons. A teaching order, they lived in the house that Pere Simon had built, and set up two schools on Pere Simon's five acres of land, probably as part of the same architectural commission as St Pancras, since Goldie was the architect. The Sisters would survive and prosper, and they still live in the house to this day, although the last school is being demolished as I write, in Spring 2002.
But we are more than a century ahead of ourselves, and St Pancras would never be completed, never become the cathedral. Indeed, the new self-confidence of Ipswich Catholics would prove to be a little misplaced. The other Ipswich churches had maintained an amount of anti-Catholic feeling, continuing to preach the 'No Popery' sermons that had dissuaded civic dignitaries from attending the opening of Our Lady of Grace in 1838. The firebrand Protestant ministers whipped up a storm that, one night in November 1862, turned into an anti-Catholic riot.
In 1919, the Diocese of Northampton made St Mary and St Pancras into separate parishes, the border between the two being just to the west of the railway bridge outside St Mary.
Ipswich expanded eastwards, engulfing the medieval parishes of Rushmere and Kesgrave, and in 1931 St Mary acquired a new Mass station with the construction of the church of the Holy Family and St Michael at Kesgrave.
And so, the old church was converted into a parish hall. The fixtures and fittings were removed; the high crucifix was brought into the new church. The old communion rails, no longer required under the revised liturgical arrangements, were incorporated into the front row of seats in the new church. The stained glass windows went their separate ways; Mary of the Annunciation went into the Presbytery, an Old Testament Prophet into the modern Primary school, and most of the rest into the library of Goldie's School of Jesus and Mary. When this closed in 1996, they were transferred to St Joseph's College in South Ipswich. The only remaining glass in the building is the Polish Community's window to Our Lady of Czestachowa, still in the middle of the west side. Several of the pews from the old church have also been retained in the building in its new use.
The east transept of Our Lady of Grace was converted into a meeting room, the 'Pere Simon Lounge'. This had been the sanctuary of the original St Anthony, and still retains the fixings for the altar canopy from its days as the Blessed Sacrament chapel of Our Lady. The space to the north of it, the former graveyard, was filled in with toilets, a kitchen, and another meeting room, the Deanery Lounge.
|Thank you to Anne
Parry and Monsignor Peter Leeming for their assistance
with this entry.
Sacred to the memory of the late Revd Louis Pierre Simon. Having been preserved from many dangers by extraordinary means, he finally escaped the terrors of the French Revolution, and after labouring 46 years in the faithful discharge of his duties as a Catholic Priest of Ipswich, died on the 8th September 1839, aged 71. This church which was built at his sole expence is the monument of his pastoral zeal, and his memory is embalmed in the hearts of his flock.
By Faith he abode in the land dwelling in cottages. For he looked for a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. - Hebrews XI chap. Ver. 9 & 10.