All Saints' Anglican Church, Rome
A growing Christian community in the heart of Rome finding and following Jesus in worship,
fellowship, study and service.
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Listen to some organ music, played by Titular Organist, Gabriele Catalucci Listen to some organ music, played by Titular Organist, Gabriele Catalucci

History - A Home in Rome: 1825-1887


"A distinguished statesman," whose name and nation are not recorded, guaranteed the rent for the first three years on the rooms, the 'granary chapel' by the Porta del Popolo, which was to serve as their "home in Rome" for English Anglicans and their friends for more than sixty years (1825 to 1887).

There seems to have survived only one photograph, not suitable for reproduction, showing the east end of the building, by that stage disfigured with the addition of a crude hood or porch roof. From time to time there was mention of the "hostelry" occupying the ground floor, and even one hint of "wild beast shows" being held there. It is tantalizing to know so much but no more.

The building had been chosen with the approval of the government, and we must guess that rooms outside the old walls were chosen simply because nothing could be found within large enough to house a congregation sometimes numbering six or seven hundred.
It was in January 1828 that the committee first placed the Chaplain on a stipendiary basis, offering him 100 pounds Sterling per annum. Rome was so intolerable in high summer that the chaplains were as glad as others to escape the heat and disease, and it was agreed that the Revd Richard Burgess could serve Geneva as well. Indeed, a total closure of All Saints' church was common in July and August, even well into September, until quite recently. Modern tourism knows no summer recess in Rome, however, and year-round services are now both justified and expected.

The opening of the new chapel also brought new life to the Charitable Fund. At one stage, we learn that no less than 230 families were being helped. The Chaplain visited the poor in their tenements to assess their need, and it is recorded that some relief was given to the Jewish population in their sternly controlled ghetto.

Eight chaplains came and went, if one counts those who opened and closed the granary chapel, in the space of its sixty-odd years. Soon they came under the jurisdiction of the new Diocese of Gibraltar, created in 1842 to supersede the immense pastoral reach of the Bishop of London throughout the Mediterranean. It has to be admitted that the men on the committee were not easily convinced that this was legal and permanent, and it was some time before they unanimously acceded to due authority! With shortage of room making itself felt once again, the building of a proper church was mooted in 1844, but it came to nothing.

Political change, in Italy as in other European countries, began to make itself felt violently in 1848, and Rome underwent a siege. Troops, in turn Roman and French, occupied and damaged the Chapel, and it was only restored for public worship in October 1849. The committee had had much trouble in repossessing it, and putting back all the fittings which had been removed and stored in shops hastily rented for the purpose. In 1850, the Revd Francis Woodward of Dublin was appointed Chaplain, and was to stay more than fifteen years. He made the first attempt to introduce music into the regular worship, not only by fostering a choir but by seeing to the installation of an organ from Prussia. Unfortunately, no details of this instrument seem to have survived, except its price in thalers.

In committee, this period was marked by flourishing activity, and by the discussion of long-term matters such as the housing of the clergy (this was not solved until after the Second World War) and indeed the method of their appointment. In 1864, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (in Foreign Parts), or SPG, accepted an invitation to become patrons of the Chaplaincy for the purpose of appointing its priest. It was not long before this new duty had to be exercised, with the death, after a long and valued ministry, of the Revd Francis Woodward.

Other changes pending at this time were as various (and as unequal in importance) as the end of church accounting in scudi and bajocchi in favour of lire, at 25 to the pound Sterling; the arrival of the Florence-Naples railway, bringing a new era to Rome's tourism; and the final triumph of Garibaldi's campaign with his entry into Rome in September 1870.

For the Anglican congregation, too, change was in the air. Despite enlargement, and liturgical furnishings several times improved, the old granary had become increasingly unsatisfactory. Worshippers were regularly incommoded by the downstairs users; urban filth in the vicinity was a source of distress; and congestion of (horse and carriage) traffic so close to the single arch of the Porta del Popolo was one more problem which the Anglican faithful had to contend with.

In 1871, the committee debated whether to "render the present chapel more ecclesiastical in its character," or to build a new church with a library and a house for the Chaplain. They called upon the advice of the London-based architect, George Edmund Street, a man who would prove to be one of the half-dozen most formidable English advocates of Gothic Revival in the whole nineteenth century. He was, moreover, an architect whose church-building was rooted in his devout Christian belief and practice.

This text was adapted from the history of All Saints' Church, Rome by David Palmer (Rome. July 1978, Augusts of 1979, 1980 & 1981).

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