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 - Two World Wars and After


The Great War, when Italy and Britain were on the same side, was far less damaging to Anglo-Saxon life in Rome than was the case twenty-five years later. All Saints' seems from the records to have gone on very much as usual, under the Revd John Gardner-Brown and the Ven. Gilbert Sissons. The latter was the first of several chaplains to include in their duties those of looking after the Archdeaconry of Malta (now "in Italy") covering all Anglican chaplaincies from Malta and Sicily to Venice and Trieste.

Not long before the war (in 1909) All Saints' had got its first electric lighting, a gift from Alfred Chenevix Trench and his wife; and in 1913 the organ was for the first time blown by electricity. Opportunity was then taken to move the organ to its present home in what had been a gallery reserved (it was said) for worshippers slipping in late from the via del Babuino door! This vacated space for the creation of a side chapel, which was to become so well used on weekdays in the heyday of leisured Anglicanism, and which now serves ideally the lightly patronized early Communion on Sundays.

After the war, a distinguished priest occupied the Chaplaincy from 1924 to 1930, Lonsdale Ragg. This chaplain found time to draw (trees were his great love) and he had written theological books. He was on friendly terms with Monsignor Hinsley, Rector of the Venerable English College (later to be Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) when such a relationship was much less easy than now; and he was a friend at a deep spiritual level with Evelyn Underhill, the noted Anglican woman teacher of spirituality, practitioner of retreats and prolific writer on these themes. The Raggs should go down in history - and they do appear in the biographies - as having befriended, to their eventual confusion, the notorious if pitiable Frederick Rolfe, "Baron Corvo." when all of them were living in Venice at the same time.

Canon Ragg's ministry at All Saints' was to see the beginning of an extraordinary one-woman enterprise in aid of church funds: the marmalade making of Mrs Pazzi. Her achievement must be recorded not only for its intense Englishness, but also because she had the proceeds devoted to the endowment, in London, of the Chaplaincy. Between 1927 and 1956 (by which date she was over 75) and with a break only during the war, she made and sold more than three tons (6,900 lbs), realizing some 150 pounds Sterling to be invested.

Clearly, the outbreak of the Second World War was going to threaten the existence of All Saints' and drive away the Chaplain. The laity would be left without the sacraments they had hitherto been accustomed to receive according to the English Use, not to mention elementary pastoral care at the crises of life.

The emergency took a little while to bite, but the final services were entered faithfully in the register without any comment by the Chaplain, the Revd Ariel Harkness. On 2nd June 1940, the Second Sunday after Trinity, 10 came to Holy Communion early, and 21 to a later celebration; while Mattins was attended by 60. A crowd is said to have formed up outside All Saints' to jeer as the last communicants left -only to be confronted by three stalwart British women, all aged sixty and all married to Italians, who proceeded to the door on the main street and sang "God Save the King." They made their way home in the surprised silence which followed.

The following morning, they knew, the authorities would make a formal closure of the building. After a baptism, they busied themselves stowing away sanctuary lamps, ornaments and fittings out of sight by pulling the heavy wooden high altar away from the marble reredos, filling it, and pushing it back against the wall. When the officials did come, the same women were there with a tale of rare dismay - the church had been broken into during the night and stripped. Nothing of any value had been spared. They also explained that the Chaplain had, naturally, left Rome at once, and had taken with him the only key to the vestry safe, so there was nothing to be done.

All Saints' was re-opened almost exactly four years after closure, being unlocked on Friday 9th June 1944. A Senior Chaplain to the Forces (the Revd D. H. P. Priest) took charge for some fourteen months, and All Saints' was designated as Garrison Church. The entry of Allied forces into Rome a few days previously is recorded on one of two major tablets which flank the font, and the wording mentions the service of thanksgiving which was offered for the liberation of Rome and the preservation of the church. Fr Priest played the organ and preached, and the BBC recorded the service. Thereafter, for some time, the registers show how well the church was used both by large congregations of infantry, parachutists and others, from the Commonwealth forces, and by military chaplains meeting for Quiet Days and to celebrate weekday Holy Communion. The Canonica next door was partially re-possessed with some difficulty when it was decided, at last, to house there the first post-war Licensed Chaplain, Canon John Findlow, and his family - the first to make use of the facility provided in 1915. It was 1949!

The nature of the Chaplaincy, or perhaps we should say its constituency, has changed steadily with the decline in the size of the resident "British Colony." This is now no longer recognisable, as such, nor likely to revive in terms of moneyed householders. New features of Rome since the War have been the establishment of the great Headquarters of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) and WF'P (World Food Programme); the flourishing of private English-language schools on some scale, covering the entire age range from toddlers to sixth form, which has brought many British teachers to Rome; the employment of nannies or au pairs in many homes, often engaged from the United Kingdom; and the setting up of the NATO Defence College - though turnover there is very fast, by the nature of the half-year course it offers

The happier aspect of this mode of church life (for it also makes for constant partings regretted on all sides) is the constant renewal of participants not only at worship but also in committee, in social events, in fund-raising efforts, and in the notable mix of nationalities. It is most important to emphasise that we are no longer "the English Church," even if the term has been correctly used again and again in recounting the past. Sometimes as many as a dozen nations can be counted supplying adherents to All Saints' corporate life, and that life has been immensely enriched in many ways by those who have attached themselves to us - chiefly, of course, from the countries of the Commonwealth. It would be a mistake not to draw attention to the real ministry All Saints' offers to tourists and pilgrims, and if many can only attend on one Sunday during what is usually a fairly brief stay, they are none the less welcome for that. All Saints' has for some years been fully integrated into joint action with other English-speaking Christians in Rome; and this includes, nowadays, warm relations on a committee and fraternal level with United Kingdom, Irish and American Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants.


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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