The Ecclesiological Society

Inaugural address - 1879



This is the inaugural address of the Society, delivered on 1 April 1879
by Alexander Beresford-Hope, MP
as reported in the first volume of the Proceedings of the St Paul's Ecclesiological Society
(the society dropped the prefix "St Paul's" from its name in the 1930s).




Beresford Hope cartoonMr. BERESFORD-HOPE said that, as a labourer in the old Ecclesiological Society, he felt the compliment of being asked to speak on the present occasion. (Contemporary cartoon of Beresford-Hope to left.)It was now some forty years since the Cambridge Camden Society was first started by a few undergraduates at Cambridge, for the study of Gothic architecture and church art. One of the founders was the late John Mason Neale, another was the Rev. Benjamin Webb, who, he was glad to say, was a member of the present Society. After they had left Cambridge, the Ecclesiological Society, as it was thenceforward called, flourished, and was the means, he dared to say, of doing a great amount of good. So much for the origin of the name of the St. Paul's Ecclesiological Society. In regard to what the members proposed to do, did they intend merely to visit, in an agreeable but unintellectual way, a certain number of churches ? He was sure they did not, and felt confident that he spoke for them all, when he assumed that their purpose in taking up the science of Ecclesiology was to maintain and develop it. The science of Ecclesiology was that of worship carried out in all its material developments. They had heard a great deal lately of that newer movement, which was called Ritualism' but which ought more properly to be called Ceremonialism. Ecclesiology was Ceremonialism, and a good deal besides. The defect of Ceremonialism was that it merely started from the book ; it was merely a development of the rubric, and of that book of which the rubric was a running index. Ecclesiology had already taken a further stride, and said that, not only must worship consist in forms of words and in rules whereby those forms of words were put in action, but that there must be the place, the building itself, the details of its construction, and the provision of all the necessary ornaments. Therefore, Ecclesiology was the science of worship. It took in both the building and the rubric, and it was, in that respect, a science. It was not an isolated art, but the vehicle whereby many arts were put in operation. Grant the building, grant the worship, grant the reverence, grant the recognition of the Author of all beauty and good, Who was the object of their worship, and then their churches must, in correspondence with these demands, display the highest forms of art in architecture, painting, sculpture, and decoration. Grant, again, the worship that went on, which carried them, of course, back to the literature of the Christian Church, ramified and spreading down, developing and changing, and being changed, accommodating itself to different climates and different objects, and then one must allow that that worship came within the scope of Ecclesiology. As the worship was to be as perfect as possible in its appointments, there came another great question : the science of music. In fact, Ecclesiology embraced so music that be dreaded to enter more fully into the subject, and considered that he had already given them a very ample bill of fare. He was glad that they gave so much prominence to the architectural side of the question. At the same time a great deal of practical importance was attached to what, for want of a better word, he ventured to call church politics. There was the question of the convenient time for service, its length, and whether preaching should be combined with worship. All these matters hung rather loosely upon the great question of Ecclesiology, but still they were not out of court when men came to study a very complicated matter in all its extent. He pressed the extent and complexity of Ecclesiology upon them clearly. and emphatically. because he could not help seeing, from a good many years' experience in Church matters, that a great deal of the mischief, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation which was brought about arose from people only taking a narrow scan of one section of the great horizon. One man, perhaps, was music mad, while another was vestment mad. Others were entirely for short services, and would cut up the magnificent flow of the Sunday morning services into little bits, while to their neighbours worship were nothing unless it were lengthy; all these things being most pregnant sources of discontent when pressed without consideration for contrary feelings. Mr. Hope then proceeded to give a description of Dorking Church from his "Worship in the Church of England."

Dorking Church was the first in which he had, as a child, ever worshipped, and therefore his first idea of Ecclesiology. Dorking Church was like thousands all over the country in the days of George IV., and much later on; so that with such visible evidence both of the depth of degradation within living memory and of the comparatively rapid rebound, they had every reason to be patient and joyful, and must not expect things to go on as fast as they could wish. The Church had learned a new language. W, hat, some time ago, was considered to be good work was how looked upon as bad. There was a new world of thought and feeling, as well as of visible forms, and everything that was new was relatively good. As to the general question, he presumed that all whom he was addressing had mastered, or would master, the general elements of Ecclesiology, and that they had all realized what were the elements typical of the material Church. It was a building with a triple division. The nave was for the body of worshippers; the choir or chancel for the clerks and the lower services; and the sanctuary for the eucharistic sacrifice ; but, much as they might generally realize that, let him advise them, whenever they visited a church, at once, as it were, to call up before them invisibly this idea. ' In visiting a church the great temptation was to run after detail, to examine the brasses, to criticise the windows. All that, as far as it went, was very well; but the great point should be first to take in the whole and then to make an inventory of everything in the church in its various forms.

He would advise them to visit churches, old and new, and compare them. There was a time when visiting a new church would have meant going where they could learn what to avoid, but, happily, that was now no longer the case, and from the new churches they could now learn a great deal. For example, they were all probably aware, speaking generally, of the great distinction between English and foreign churches. Except in churches of the first class, wood roofing was, in this country, more common than vaulting; the contrary was the case abroad. The English parish churches were, purely and simply, what the words " parish church " might define, either composed only of a nave (with or without aisles) and of a lower chancel, or, if there were transepts, then of transepts not so high as the nave. They were not of the larger, grander, and more developed form, which was easily understood by the term "minster," and of which Cathedral churches were the noblest examples. On the contrary, on the Continent the "minster " type was far more frequently found in parish churches. It was for them to consider how far architects of the present day had been successful in their attempt to grasp foreign ideas. At All Saints, -Margaret Street, there was to be found a vaulted chancel, which, as in many German churches, was more lofty outside than the nave, but it had a square east end; Butterfield, its architect, having a personal preference for that feature over the apse. Air. Pearson's churches, in Red Lion Square, and of St. Augustine, Kilburn, were both instances of how the minster type had been adopted for our parish churches, both of these also having square east ends, and being vaulted throughout. In both these examples Mr. Pearson had introduced modifications of the triforium. On the other hand, in the parish church at Stole Newington, and at St. Mary Magdalene, Paddington, Sir G. Scott and Mr. Street respectively bad tried the resources of the apse. But let them begin with the still existing mediaeval churches in London. Westminster Abbey came first. Then, on the verge of the City, in Smithfield, stood the west door, the remains' of the transepts, and the choir of the noble Norman minster, St. Bartholomew's Priory. At a short distance across the Thames rose the transepts, choir, and eastern chapels of the magnificent thirteenth century minster of St. Mary Overie, now called St. Saviour's, Southwark. The nave was only destroyed within living memory. The Temple Church, with its round Norman nave, and triple but pointed choirs, was a minster church of European fame And unusual beauty.

There was also a church in the City, not far from St. Paul's Cathedral, which was of singular beauty and highly historical, viz., the Church of the Austin Friars. The Austin Friars, like other bodies of preaching friars, had large churches, which were intended for vast masses of people, for sermons, and for processions, rather than for conventual services. This church, of which only the nave survived, was very broad, without triforium or clerestory, the arches rising up to the waggon-headed roof of the nave and aisles, the three being of an equal height, and lighted by large traceried windows, such as one might expect to find in a church built in the fourteenth century. Some fifteen years ago the roof was burnt, and there was great fear lest all the remains might be swept away, and the building replaced by some degraded substitute ; but, happily, public opinion was brought to bear, and the work of restoration was placed in the hands of a young architect, named Lightly (too soon lost to the world), whose employers gave him carte blanche in the matter, and the church had been very satisfactorily restored. This church had been the type of two churches erected since, viz., Pugin's Cathedral of St. George, Southwark, and Richard Carpenter's church, St. Mary Magdalene, Munster Square, the work of one of true genius prematurely cut off. Both of these architects had a predilection for, and were well versed in, the architecture of the fourteenth century. The noteworthy features in these three churches, the old and the two new, was to give space by enlarging the floor area. There was, as he had noted, neither triforium nor clerestory in either, only pillars, arches, and roof. In very strong contrast stood the noble minster constructed by Raphael Brandon for the Irvingites in Gordon Square, which was in its type the reproduction of a Yorkshireabbey of the thirteenth century. But to return to ancient churches, there was the large conventual Church of St. Helen, Bishopsgate, of the fifteenth century, once a nunnery, which was worth a visit, as a specimen of a mediaeval conventual church of considerable area, and yet quite destitute of the minster feeling. All Hallows, Barking , marked the part of the City which the great fire had not reached; St. Peter ad Vincula, in the Tower, was of late Perpendicular, and on the northern side of the city stood the little Church of St. Ethelbuga of about the same date. At some distance stood St. Giles's, Cripplegate, dating from the fifteenth century. St. Sepulchre's, Snow Hill, had resumed its third pointed aspect, and St. Alban's, 'Wood Street, should also be noted. Towards the eastern fringe of the City was found the late Gothic Church of St. Andrew Undershaft, and near it likewise stood St. Katherine's Cree-a curious specimen of the Gothic architecture of the reign of Charles I., the dedication of which brought Archbishop Laud into so much trouble. The post-Gothic of the seventeenth century was also illustrated by- the chapels of the Charterhouse and of Lincoln's Inn, built by Inigo Jones. St. Michael's, Cornhill, of course, they would visit-a work of Wren restored by Scott-and then came Wren's only Gothic church, St. Mary Aldermary, which had recently been restored. In Cornhill, a little to the eastward of St. Michael’s, was Wren's Church of St. Peter, with its grand cross-keys as a vane, which was a building of considerable interest, especially as there was a legend that it stood on the site of the earliest Christian church in London. Besides this, it had a high chancel screen, of which Bishop Beveridge, preaching the dedication sermon, had said 11 that it should not be considered that it was a wonder why this should be erected ; it should be rather a question of surprise why screens should not be raised in every parish church. It was the division of the Holy of Holies which had been in all time." There was a time when the chancel screen was looked upon as an abomination, but that battle had been fought. The screen was granted by Dr. Lushington, and the cross at the top by the Judicial Committee, at two stages of the Westerton and Liddell case, and since then the rood screen had been recognized as thoroughly consonant with the letter and spirit of the Church of England. Of the small parish churches which once served the villages which have been successively engulfed by London, he could only point to the little old Norman Church of St. Pancras,. and that had been terrible spoilt by a too early restoration.

Of course, Westminster Abbey would be an infinite mine of study to them. Hard by it was the Palace of Westminster, and in it the under chapel of St. Stephen remained, of exquisite middle pointed, equal, if Dot superior to the Sainte Chapelle, and most richly renovated by Edward Barry; but the upper chapel had been unhappily swept away when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt. Adjacent to the chapel was the cloister, of the fifteenth century, (for St. Stephen's Chapel had been collegiate), now devoted to the less sacred function of holding the great-coats of Members of Parliament. Lambeth Palace Chapel of the thirteenth century was a very valuable inheritance; even more so was the Chapel Royal of the Norman kings in the White Tower of London. Out of town St. Alban's Abbey was easily accessible, as also was Waltham Abbey, while Windsor and Eton were an easy journey on one side, and Rochester not much further on the other. In fact, if the Society really set to work with a will, it would find in churches, old and new, good and bad, ample material for study and criticism, and for making their labour agreeable in the very excess of their possible work.

Before he sat down, Mr. Beresford-Hope said that he could not help pointing out how the original Ecclesiological Society had developed. It grew up from a desire to see what was the real mission of the parish church of modern days; to realize what were the essential features of it as compared with the old English church; what were the elements which should be declared the absolutely best through changes and reforms, what should necessarily or wisely be dropped, and what were the features of modern times which might most usefully be carried out. Let them look at the Cathedral now nearly finished at Edinburgh, where the Church was a dissenting sect, and they would see much cause for congratulation. The same spirit was spreading, in Ireland. It was a great mistake to suppose that the Church was dead in that country, or was dying; on the contrary it was fighting a good battle, and was upheaving the ground very much as it had done forty years ago in England. They would probably be surprised when he told them how the principles of Ecclesiology were working amongst, the Irish people. There was quite a furore now for adding chancels to the bad churches of modern times. Architecture was progressing mightily there, as might be seen in Mr. Burges' new cathedral not long completed at Cork, which was of grand proportions. Then there was Mr. Street's restoration of Christ Church, Dublin, which, in the hands of the architectural surgeon, had come out as one of the most exquisite specimens of the art of the Middle Ages.

He had said nothing, about St. Paul's, which was very familiar to all of them, but they would remember that, although it is completely Italian in its details, it is Medieval in its proportions and arrangement. It is the usual fashion to compare St. Peter's at Rome with St. Paul's, but he had on the contrary always been struck with the enormous and fundamental difference between the two Churches. Both of them are in the Italian style, and both have a dome at the crossing, but in all other respects they widely differ. At St. Peter's there are aisles, but they are separated from the main body by square piers which are in their solidity moles not pillars, and which totally destroy any idea of connection between that bigger hall, the nave, and those lesser halls, the aisles. The high altar stands in the middle of the church, with an empty eastern limb behind-an arrangement suitable for Pontifical high masses, but abhorrent to the idea of a working cathedral. The "choir" is a side chapel glazed, and as Montalembert said to a cardinal, who repeated it to the speaker, "turning the canons singing the offices into the likeness of beetles in a naturalist's case." In fact, comparing two such unlike edifices only did injustice to each, and he dared to say that in plan St. Paul's was the superior.

In conclusion, Mr. Beresford-Hope urged members of the Society to collect sketches and plans, take notes, and rub brasses, all which processes of study would be of great use to them.


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