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St Etheldredas
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St Etheldredas was originally the chapel in a palace of the Bishops of Ely, and recalls the pre-Reformation days when most mediaeval bishops, abbots and priors kept large houses in London; Lambeth Palace is the great survivor of such houses today. The Holborn church was owned by the Bishops of Ely until 1772, when the present Ely Place was built. In 1874 the church was bought by the Institute of Charity or Rosminians, a Roman Catholic order that had been founded in 1838 by Antonio Rosmini Serbati. This is therefore a rare case of a modern Catholic congregation occupying a mediaeval church, albeit a much restored one. A recent rector, Father Kit Cunningham, MBE, ran a Strawberrie Fair in Ely Place for many years in aid of charity, in allusion to the strawberries grown at the mediaeval palace, mentioned in Shakespeares Richard III.

St Etheldredas

The west window depicts Carthusian monks who were martyred under King Henry VIII.


St Etheldredas is a typical two-story mediaeval private chapel, of which St Stephens in the Palace of Westminster was once the most prominent example in London, but whose crypt is only part to survive. A close existing parallel to St Etheldredas is the chapel of Prior Crauden at Ely itself, for they are of comfortable date as well as type. Only the east end of St Etheldredas can be seen from Ely Palace. The entrance leads the visitor into a corridor on the south side and up a substantial flight of steps into the aisleless, rectangular upper church. The interior is dominated by the huge, five-light east window, which almost fills the wall. It has interesting tracery that does not reach the apex but is crowned instead by a large sexfoil. Geometrical shapes enrich the heads of the lights. The design of this window mixes styles typical of the 13th and early 14th centuries; it is Decorated but not curvilinear. In 1952 the window was filled with stained glass by Joseph E. Nuttgens, a design that is in agreeable contrast to its jagged and stark postwar contemporaries elsewhere. God the Father is at the head of the window, and below in the tracery lights there are Nine Orders of Angels, the ancient chi-rho symbol (the first two letters of Christ in Greek), a symbol of the Holy Trinity, and the Greek letters alpha and omega, with which Christ referred to Himself as the beginning and the end. The middle light shows Christ the King surrounded by angels, with the dove of the Holy Spirit above. Christ is flanked by the Virgin Mary and St Joseph, and in the outer left-hand light by St Etheldreda, the churchs patroness, who founded the monastery at Ely in 673. The Ely arms of three gold crowns on a red background can be seen. Above the principal figures are the four Evangelists holding the opening texts of their Gospels in Latin, and accompanied by their symbols: a man for Matthew, a lion for Mark, an ox for Luke and an eagle for John.

St Etheldredas

The much-restored fabric of the nave dates from about 1290.


The west end has a screen of 1897 by J.F. Bentley, which divides off the first bay and supports the Lewis organ, also of 1897. The west window has stained glass of 1964 by Charles Blakeman, which depicts monks of the nearby London Charterhouse who were martyred in 1535 for denying King Henry VIIIs supremacy over the Church. The arms of the Spanish ambassador appear at the bottom right, for his equivalent in the 1620s, Gondomar, lived in Ely Place for a few years. Pope John XXIIIs arms appear at the top. The north and south windows of 1952-8 (also by Charles Blakeman) show New and Old Testament scenes respectively, and bear in addition the names and arms of pre-Reformation Bishops of Ely. Between the windows there are sizeable statues of Catholic martyrs of Tudor times, by Mary Blakeman, 1962-4. At the east end, to the right of the altar, there is a gabled reliquary, which contains a portion of St Etheldrerdas hand. A statue of the patroness is fixed to the wall above. Another saint whose prayers are invoked here on account of a relic is St Blaise, on whose feast-day (3 February) a blessing is offered as crossed candles are held against the throat.

St Etheldredas

The stained glass in the east window was made by Joseph E. Nuttgens in 1952 and provides an excellent visual focus for the interior.



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