Anglicans in Rome (1816-Today).
A Short History.
In the days of the Grand Tour, young British men and women are sent to Italy to learn about the marvels of classical antiquity. Unsurprisingly, Rome becomes the focus of their trips. They bring with them copies of the prayer book and the authorised version, sometimes even their own chaplains.
1719: The Stuarts move to Rome, they were keen to show their compatriots they were tolerant of Britain’s religious diversity. Therefore Anglican members of the court were allowed to practice their religion, a certain Dr. Cooper was the first minister to lead services in the Palazzo Balestra in the Piazza Santi Apostoli.
1738: George Langton, a student from Oxford University is the first Anglican to die and to be buried in Rome.
The 19th century sees both the formation of a regular community, as well as its growth, and the foundation of an English chapel that will serve the community for over sixty years. The church is established in the so-called “English Ghetto”, by the Spanish Steps - where the English upper and middle classes rented their rooms and where they could find all the commodities they needed, from tea rooms to bakers and grocers, as well as hotels, doctors and wine merchants, they also had their daily newspapers. Celebrities worshipped at the English Chapel, among them Lord Byron, J.W.M. Turner, Florence Nightingale, Charles Dickens, and Edward Lear, even the Duchess of Cambridge and other nobility.
20th October 1816: The Rev. Corbert Hue of Jersey rents some rooms in a palazzo in the Via dei Greci 43, where he first led a morning service.
29th December 1816: Mattins and Holy Communion are celebrated in a palazzo in the Piazza Colonna, the service is attended by over a hundred people - a large donation is raised and distributed among the poor of Rome, the tradition of the Charitable Fund continues to this day.
1816-1821: The community grows to over a hundred, and soon other rooms are rented, first by Trajan’s Column, then at the Piazza Colonna No. 6. And later on in the Palazzo Corea, by the Ara Pacis, and finally in the Via Rasella, by the Quirinal Palace!
1825: History for the Anglicans in Rome substantially changes when an anonymous donor guaranteed the rent for three years of the upper floor of a former granary outside the Porta del Popolo. This eventually became known as the Granary Chapel.
January 1828, a permanent chaplain is first placed at the chapel on a stipendiary basis.
1842: the Diocese of Gibraltar is created, and the chapel (not without protests from some members of the parish council) falls under its jurisdiction.
1844-49: The congregation keeps growing and more room needs to be found. During the time of the Roman Republic the chapel was occupied and damaged both by Roman and French troops - thankfully the fittings had been stored in shops inside the city walls, and the chapel reopened in 1849.
1850: The Revd Francis Woodward is appointed chaplain - he was to stay for fifteen years and he firstly introduced music to the service, not only by fostering a choir but also by seeing to the installation of an organ from Prussia.
1865: The chapel is moved to a room opposite the previous one, in the same building. The chapel is refitted properly with a chancel, a lectern, pulpit and altar, as well as quire stalls. A marble reredos is installed, designed by William Slater.
1871: The committee explores the idea of building a new church. A certain George Edmund Street of London is called.
The community splits in half.
For about sixty years an alternative Anglican congregation of a more Low Church tradition existed in Rome.
1870s: During the same years, some disaffected worshippers at the Granary Chapel, who found the ministry of the then assistant priest slightly too ritualistic for their taste, decided to set up a rival congregation, aided by Bishop Alford of the Diocese of Victoria in Hong Kong.
1873: A new church in the Neo-Classical style, designed by Italian architect Antonio Cipolla, was built in the Piazza San Silvestro, looking across to what is now the Post Office - thanks to a handsome response to the dissidents’ appeal in the London Times. This was the first Protestant church in Italy to be built within the city walls. It was inaugurated on the 26th October of the following year.
1913: About the time of the beginning of the Great War, the church had to be demolished to make way for the enlargement of the square. A new site was found in the Via Romagna, then Via Dogali, in the Ludovisi district of Rome. The foundation stone of the new Holy Trinity was laid on 28th April by Ambassador Sir Rennel Rodd, the church was designed in the Romanesque-Revival style by Edmund Fisher, a British architect.
1937-1948: Despite the fairly thriving life of the church during the early 1920s, with services and social events, and even acts of cooperations with All Saints’. The church eventually closed down in 1937, with the last service being said on the 26th April. It was finally demolished in 1948, never recovering from the war.
A New Dawn: a Dignified Church Building.
During the late 19th century, the community sees the construction of a new dignified Gothic church building designed by Victorian architect, George Edmund Street, which is the present All Saints’ church.
1872: Victorian architect, George Edmund Street, makes a first design for a proposed English church within the city walls, with rectory, library and other facilities. The design is closer to that of the American church in Rome, as opposed as to the one of the current building.
1874: the English Chapel committee takes the decision of building a new church when the Municipality of Rome needed to demolish the Granary Chapel to make room for amenity and traffic purposes outside the Porta del Popolo.
1875: begins the long ministry of the Rev. Henry Watson Wasse, who would remain in office until 1891 and oversaw the construction of the new All Saints’ church.
1876: George Edmund Street, a prominent Victorian architect, comes to Rome to see through the building of the new English church. He comes up with the plan for the construction of a Gothic-Revival church which will be built in a plot of land offered by the Comune in the Via del Babuino, on the site of a former convent.
Summer 1880: work for the preparation of the site for construction begins. A Roman villa and various artefacts are found on the site.
10th April 1882: Easter Day, at 3 o’clock, Evensong begins in the old chapel, it terminates after the third collect. A procession of at least fourteen clergy and a great crowd of people moves to the site of the new church, while singing “All People That On Earth Do Dwell”. The foundation stone is laid.
1885: the chancel end is finished and roofed, and the vestry and library above were completed. Street is replaced by his son Arthur after his death, who will complete the screen, pulpit and baptismal font.
1886: the completion of the church is being delayed, and the cost of the precious marbles needed has increased in the meantime. Canon Wasse himself pays for the remaining expenses.
10th April 1887: it’s a sunny Easter Day, the chairs from the old chapel are moved to the new one, Holy Communion is celebrated at 7 AM and at 8.30 AM by the Bishop of Carlisle, a Sung Communion was celebrated at 11 AM by the Bishop of Gibraltar - the Bishop of Carlisle also gave the address at Evensong at 3 PM.
1937: the steeple is finally erected during the spring thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor.
The 20th Century: the War and the Future
The 20th century has been a time of struggles and joys for our community. We have witnessed two World Wars, but we have also seen a growing congregation, and every proof of the fact that we are here to stay for the years to come.
May 1891: a new chaplain, the Revd Frank Nutcombe-Oxenham is appointed, a great scholar who had been examining chaplain to the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in Scotland. Among his works was a document confuting the papal bull against valid Anglican orders.
10th April 1898: Easter Day, eucharistic vestments are first adopted at All Saints’ which follows the High Church practice of Percy Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook. Some original vestments and altar furnishings still survive to this day.
1901: the end of the Victorian era is marked by a grand memorial service in honour of Queen Victoria.
1909: All Saints’ first gets electric lighting, thanks to a donation from our then churchwarden Chenevix-Trench and his wife.
1913: the Lady Chapel is created by moving the organ to the present position in the gallery, which is for the first time blown by electricity.
1915: the Canonica, designed, by a local architect, M. E. Cannizzaro, is finally complete.
1924-1930: after the Great War, a distinguished priest, the Rev. Lonsdale Ragg, is appointed chaplain. He was on friendly terms with the rector of the Venerable English College at a time when such friendships were more difficult. He was a distinguished artist and theological writer, as well as a popular socialite. During these years All Saints’ and for almost fifty years from then, All Saints’ saw the beginning of Mrs Pazzi-Axworthy’s enterprise of jam-making for fund-raising projects, it is thought she produced over three tons of jam while at All Saints’. Lady Sybil Graham, wife of the British Ambassador of the time also became a parishioner, she is better known for having been the source of inspiration for Dame Maggie Smith’s character in “Tea with Mussolini”.
1930s: during the same years, we had a long serving American assisting chaplain, whose memorial is still in our church, the Rev. Harry Walstane Guerard De Nancrede, he served our church for free for over 45 years, until his death in 1937, he was responsible for having purchased the Venetian lamps hanging above the sanctuary.
Second World War: this period threatened the very existence of our chaplaincy, with the laity being left without the comfort of pastoral care and the sacraments in their own language. The final services were entered faithfully in the register without any comment by the chaplain, the Revd Ariel Harkness, on 2nd June 1940. During the occasion Mrs. Pazzi-Axworthy and other two ladies from the congregation hid the church’s silver and sang “God Save the King” on their way home amidst a sea of Fascists.
9th June 1944: the church reopens as a garrison chapel for the allied forces under the watch of the Rev. D.H.P. Priest. The allied entry into Rome is remembered by two majors memorials in the back of church. A thanksgiving service of Mattins was celebrated on the occasion.
1950s/1960s: following the war, Canon John Findlay becomes chaplain and he was the first one who occupied the canonica, it was 1949! He was followed by Canon Douglas J. N. Wanstall, the All Saints’ of the Dolce Vita, saw the visits of General Montgomery, as well as Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, on several occasions. Garibaldi descendants had also been regular worshippers since the 19th century. Archbishops of Canterbury Fisher and Ramsey, also visited the parish during their ecumenical visits to Rome. How not to remember Audrey Hepburn’s film “Roman Holiday”? Our spire appears in the film several times.
1980s-Today: in recent times, the nature of the “English Ghetto” changes and so does the nature of our congregation. While we maintain a backbone of “historical” parishioners as well as congregants who come from various British and international institutions throughout the city, we are also a growing and welcoming community represented in over twenty nationalities.
2016-2017: during these years, we celebrated our 200 years anniversary as a community. On 27th October 2016, we celebrated Mattins in the original palazzo in the Via dei Greci where it was originally held in 1816, the day concluded with a Festal Evensong at church. In February 2017, we had the pleasure of welcoming Pope Francis to our church - it was the first visit of its kind of a pope to an Anglican church community.
The future looks bright, jam continues to be made, evensong continues to be sung, young people and the old, British and not, continue to mix. We are only waiting for you!
If you want to read more on our history, please contact our church office, we have a 10 € guidebook, as well as an able archivist!
History of the Anglican Community in Rome, Edoardo Fanfani, 2019.