History - Early Days - 1816 to 1825
For over 160 years, starting from 1816, Anglican worship has been offered regularly
in Rome by clergy of the Church of England. The early days of the English Chaplaincy
in Rome are now remote. Although some of the buildings in which Anglican worship
was celebrated are no longer easily identifiable, or even extant, an attempt can
be made to reconstruct the earliest days of Anglican ministry in Rome.
It was in 1816, the year after Waterloo, that a first formal rendezvous for Anglican
worship was organized. It had been impossible to hold such worship in Italy in the
centuries since the Reformation, except in protected enclaves (such as the chapel
in Leghorn), and no legation from the King to the Papal Court had been allowed by
However, on Sunday 20th October 1816, the Jerseyman Corbert Hue arrived in Rome
from Jesus College, Oxford (where he was Fellow and Bursar). He is the first Anglican
priest known to have officiated publicly from the Book of Common Prayer in the Eternal
City. He subsequently became Rector of Braunston, Northants and finally Dean of
Jersey. He died in office at St Helier in 1837, aged 68. We do not know why, at
the age of 47, the learned cleric came to Rome for a spell; but he rented rooms
at via dei Greci 43, a recently restored palazzo with a courtyard. Standing just
clear of the apse of the Greek Uniate church, it is a stone's throw from where the
future All Saints' was to rise over the ruins of a convent on via del Babuino. It
was therefore in the vicinity of the 'English Ghetto' around the Spanish Steps that
four English worshippers joined the Jerseyman from Oxford while he conducted, according
to his own reported boast, "the whole morning service, in the capital of the Pope,
and within sight of the very Vatican!"
That was on 27th October 1816, within three weeks, the Sunday service was attracting
between thirty and forty to his rooms, and at the request of the congregation he
began to give a weekly sermon. Soon, people were being turned away for lack of space,
and a larger, if still temporary, meeting place was created in spacious rooms near
Trajan's Column. It was thought wise to ask for papal permission to conduct public
worship in English, and Cardinal Consalvi, the Pope's Secretary of State, was approached.
The reply, though icy by the standards of modern ecumenism, was taken as granting
the request. Pope Pius VII is reported to have said,
"Il Papa sa nulla, e concede nulla"
("The Pope knows nothing, and grants nothing").
Or, as we might say, "What the eye doesn't see . . ."
Morning Prayer and Holy Communion were first said in this meeting place near the
piazza Colonna on 29th December 1816. There were 120 in the congregation and it
is reported the 97 communicated. 220 pounds Sterling were collected, and distributed
among the poor of Rome. There continued to be a noble tradition of collections for
the poor of Rome and back in England.
Hue was succeed by other clerics who officiated for a time in Rome. We know that
for a spell from 1819 the services were conducted in whichever lodgings the priest
occupied, following a warning that the local government objected to the English
having so openly established a fixed place of worship. Despite of this measures,
services continued to be well attended, with over one hundred present at the Good
Friday liturgies in 1821.
From about 1822, the Revd Richard Burgess was among those who took steps to establish
more securely Anglican worship in Rome. In 1828, he become the first permanent English
or British Chaplain, and premises were openly obtained for the purpose in the Palazzo
Corea (overlooking the Mausoleum of Augustus). In November 1823, however, the lease
expired and the parish committee rented two rooms in the via Rasella, just off the
Via delle Quatro Fontane. This placed the community almost under the garden walls
of the Quirinale Palace, the residence of Pope Leo XII!
It seems evident that the chaplains felt a new sense of security in performing their
duties, because in January 1824 Burgess began to wear his canonical robes when conducting
Divine Service. By the autumn of 1824, the rooms in Via Rasella were hopelessly
inadequate, and the committee began to search for much larger premises. It was to
be hoped that the move would end the restless years. Indeed it did, giving Rome
an identifiable, free-standing "English Chapel" which would serve Anglicans in greater
spaciousness and reasonable dignity for over sixty years.
This text was adapted from the history of All Saints' Church, Rome by David Palmer
(Rome. July 1978, Augusts of 1979, 1980 & 1981).