A HISTORY OF ST. BENEDICT’S CHURCH

1066 to 1538

After the Norman Conquest of England the Manor of Atherstone was owned by the Benedictine monks of Bee Herlouin in Normandy. It was hoped that the town would supply them with a good income but unfortunately the town did not thrive economically. However a small ‘chapel of ease’ was built in the town centre and the priest from St Peter’s Church Mancetter agreed to say Mass for the people of Atherstone three times a week.

In 1375 Ralph, Lord Basset of Drayton founded a friary for 12 men, mendicant Augustinian friars. They relied on charitable donations and it took several years to build their friary. It was only completed when Lord Basset on his death left £84 to complete the building of the friary and church, in the area where St Mary’s Church stands today. Being a small community and not a wealthy one the friary remained small and did not become important.

Henry VI, in 1405 decided that land and monasteries that were owned by communities abroad should have their property seized and transferred to the English monasteries.

The Atherstone Friary eventually came under the control of the Mount Grace monastery in Yorkshire in 1462. At the time of the Reformation in 1538, the Bishop of Dover, Richard Ingleworth, reported to Thomas Cromwell about the condition of the Atherstone Friary. It was noted that the net income was only 30 shillings a year and the fabric of the buildings were in a poor state of repair. The friars had had a genuine commitment to their way of life, living their lives in a truly mendicant way. Nevertheless the Friary was closed. The friars received no pension and they possibly remained in the local area. It is believed that the local Freer and Austin families are descendants of the friars. The name of the street Friars’ Gate reminds us that once there was an Augustinian Friary in the town.

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres long and 50 centimetres tall, which depicts the Norman conquest of England

Henry VI

Henry VI, in 1405 decided that land and monasteries that were owned by communities abroad should have their property seized and transferred to the English monasteries.

Friar's Gate

The name of the street Friars’ Gate reminds us that once there was an Augustinian Friary in the town.

1538 to 1858

At the Dissolution, the site of the Friary was granted to Henry Cartwright however the church was to be used by the parishioners. The nave of the Friary church was converted into a chapel and the chancel was used as a school. After the Reformation it was very difficult for Catholics to practice their faith. Heavy fines were imposed so it was easier to follow the ‘prescribed’ Church of England religion. There was definite anti-catholic prejudice during the three centuries that followed the Reformation and many English people feared anything to do with Rome and the Pope. Catholics could not become members of parliament or take up official posts.

During the later part of the 18th century the Catholic faith began to be tolerated, The saying of the Mass was illegal but this fact was often ignored. It mm have been because after the French Revolution many of the French abbes were welcomed into England and were allowed to practice their faith. it would have been difficult to prosecute English Catholics for doing the same thing.

Between 1778 and 1793 Acts of Parliament were passed that made life easier for Catholics. They were relieved of the restrictions on land inheritance and purchase, Catholics could take an oath of loyalty and Catholics were able to vote but not sit in parliament. Penalties were no longer taken for practicing the Roman Catholic religion.

Some French abbes’ fleeing from the anti Catholic activities in France during the French Revolution stayed at Caldecote Manor. They were led by Father Charles Greyfretine. They said Mass in homes and possibly converted local people to the faith as they held regular missions from 1793 in the Atherstone area. Father Charles died in 1802 and was replaced by his brother, Father John Greyfretine. He continued to work the Atherstone Mission until 1826, when he was able to return to his home town of Lisieux.

The priests from Tamworth came to the town to say Mass for the Catholics for the next few years. Later the Dominicans, who had settled in Hinckley in 1765 and were very active in the south Leicestershire and the north Warwickshire area founded a mission in Atherstone in 1828. Father Augustine Proctor OP was a key figure in the revival of the Catholic faith in the area.

In 1829 another Act of Parliament was passed, ‘The Catholic Emancipation Act’. Catholics could participate fully in the public life of the country and sit in parliament Even so there were some high official posts that Catholics could not fill.

In 1837 a group of Dominicans Nuns were encouraged, probably by Father Proctor, to buy some land to the south of Witherley Road in order to build a convent and church. They paid £735 to Mr Charles Holte Bracebridge of Atherstone Hall. Ambrose Lisle Phillips of Grace Dieu Manor Leicestershire gave them a substantial donation to help with the purchase of the land and the building programme. He laid the foundation stone on 18th October 1837 together with the Dominican Provincial, Father Augustine Proctor. The convent was designed by Joseph Hansom who also is remembered for designing the Hansom cab. The Convent took two years to build and cost £8,000. The first sisters arrived on the 16th September 1839 and the convent was blessed on November 16th.

Colwich Abbey

Saint Mary’s Abbey in Colwich, Staffordshire is an English community of Roman Catholic nuns of the English Benedictine Congregation founded in 1623 at Cambrai, Flanders, in the Spanish Netherlands.

father caestryce

Father Benedict Caestryck was the chaplain from 1839-1842.

Dominicans

The Dominican Order was founded by the Spanish priest Saint Dominic de Guzman in France and approved by Pope Honorius III (1216–27) on 22 December 1216

The people of Atherstone were welcomed into the Rosary Convent chapel to hear Mass each Sunday. Father Benedict Caestryck was the chaplain from 1839-1842. Unfortunately for the nuns their plans of opening a school for young girls was not successful and after a period of time they were in debt and had to leave in 1858. They sold the convent to the Benedictine nuns of Colwich Abbey, Staffordshire. The Ven. Mother Mary Clare Knight was Prioress of Colwich Abbey and she sent 19 nuns to establish a new foundation in Atherstone. They decided to change the name of the convent to St Scolastica’s. St. Scholastica was the sister of St Benedict. The convent and chapel were enlarged costing another £30,000. This was officially consecrated by Bishop Ullathorne in 1861.

The Benedictine Order was a ‘closed’ order and so it was decided that the nuns would build a Church and school for the people of Atherstone. They bought land in Owen Street and built the present Church. It was opened in September 1859. The presbytery was built in 1870.

Charles Alban Buckler

The Architect of St. Benedict’s Church Atherstone.

Charles Alban Buckler (1824-1905) was the son of the antiquarian writer and church restorer, John Chessell Buckler (1793-1894). Like his father he was a keen student of medieval art and architecture, building many churches in the Gothic manner. His obituary in Building News states “His first and last love in architecture was for the Early English style, as his numerous works testify, notably at Arundel Castle and the Dominican church at Haverstock Hill.” He converted to the Catholic faith in 1844, and later became a member of the Order of Malta. He was one of the most distinguished of the early to mid Victorian Roman Catholic architects. Other churches he designed are: St. Thomas of Canterbury St Leonards-on-Sca. St. Francis of Assisi Midhurst, and St Peter’s Shoreham. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Edward the Confessor at Sutton Park.

The Church in 1900

St Benedict’s Church, circa 1900. The priest is in the garden.

C A B

Charles Alban Buckler (1824-1905)

church interior

The Interior of the Church as designed by Charles Alban Buckler. Photograph 1930

The Church in 1950

The Church as described by Mr Richard Trivett and Mrs Mary Prowse.

If one walked into the church in 1950 it would almost certainly have looked the same as it did when it was built in 1859. On entering the church the most noticeable feature was the rood screen, it was almost black,this separated the sanctuary from the main body of the church. The tracery was not too elaborate, in the Victorian Gothic style. The screen was topped by a crucifix and the statues of Mary and St. John. On the sanctuary was a wooden altar, stained with a gold colour. At the front of the altar were three decorated sections, with the Lamb of God in the centre. It had a wooden reredos with Gothic arches at the rear of the altar. Inside these arches stood six large brass candlesticks that were used for Sunday Mass. The Stations of the Cross were pictures in polished wooden frames with a cross on the top of each one. In the recess at the back of the church was a grey carved stone baptismal font. The old pews had place names upon them; you could pay to have your own reserved place.

Atherstone 1950s

Atherstone High Street in the 1950s

St. Benedict's Church in 1950

St Benedict’s Church, 1950.

The view to the Market Square and St Mary's Atherstone in the 1950s

The view to the Market Square and St. Mary’s in 1950

1950 to 2009

During the 1950’s much of the wood in the church was suffering from an infestation of woodworm and had to be removed. The beautiful rood screen, altar, altar rails, panelling and the pews were changed. The Church became much plainer, the decorated walls were painted a cream colour and the pews and wooden altar rails were of a simple design. In the late 1950’s the electric wall heaters were replaced with the latest under floor heating system. However this had a short life as the elements were under four inches of concrete and did not allow for easy repair.

In 1964 the parish school moved from behind the church to Church Walk, about three quarters of a mile from the Church. Part of the old school was demolished and a new Church Hall was built. The old part of the school that remained was renovated and called the Tudor Room. The Church Hall was used for many activities including Autumn Fayres, jumble sales, concerts and social events.

1967 saw the demolition of St. Scholastica’s Covent, The contents of the convent were taken to the mother house at Colwich Abbey, Staffordshire, sold or given away to parishioners as ‘keepsakes’. The altar was given to St Mary’s Church, Atherstone and is now in the St Lucy Chapel.

The top section of the altar was damaged during the demolition and was taken to Mr Bill Orton’s builder’s yard, In the late I970’s this was re-discovered and offered to St Benedict’s Church, It was decided to use the two frieze sections behind the altar. This entailed a small amount of reconstruction as the plinth for the tabernacle needed to be raised. The friezes depict St Benedict giving the Eucharist to his monks on the left and St Scholastica on her death bed receiving Viaticum from her brother St. Benedict on the right.

In 1989 further major internal alterations were made, A new altar, baptismal font and ambo were installed made of polished Portland stone, New carpets were laid and the pews had new kneelers.

The statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady were repainted and placed in the recess at the rear of the church.

They stand on the two original shortened plinths from the 19th century church. A wooden lectern was made and given to the church by Peter and Bridget Luttrell of Droitwch in remembrance of Elizabeth V Harding, grandmother of the Rev. Father John Ryan who was baptised in this church in 1887 and emigrated to the USA in 1900.

More improvements were made in 2004. A sound system was installed, including the loop system to enable deaf people to hear the services easily. Outside the entrance to the church and the driveway to the Church hall were resurfaced with tarmac. The kitchen was extended and refitted in the Church hall.

The Church Hall is used every Sunday for Children’s Liturgy, morning coffee for the parishioners after Mass and other social functions throughout the year.

the_altar_frieze_1967

The Altar Frieze, 1967

St. Benedict's Church Interior 1965

St Benedict’s Church Interior, 1965.

the_altar_frieze_1978

The Altar Frieze, 1978

St. Benedict’s 150 Year Anniversary, 2009

Mass is celebrated daily. The vigil Mass on Saturday and Sunday morning Mass are very well attended. Sunday Mass is always a sung Mass. On the first Sunday of each month during term time the liturgy is led by the pupils of St Thomas More School at the vigil Mass and by the pupils of St Benedict’s School on Sunday morning. The Children’s Liturgy group has grown so large that it has had to be divided into two, one for the young children and one for the children of Year 3 and upwards. Mass is celebrated each Thursday in school and parishioners are welcome to attend.

Readers, altar servers, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, organists, musicians, catechists and Church Wardens assist the priest in the celebration of the Mass. There are a good number of altar servers who help our priest at the weekend and Wednesday evening Masses. Many of them belong to the Guild of St Stephen. There are dedicated teams of cleaners, flower arrangers and caterers who help the parish to function smoothly. A group of parishioners visit the sick in their homes and also take them Holy Communion regularly.

The catechists help prepare children for the Sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and Confirmation if they do not attend catholic schools. The Baptism Programme, as introduced by Archbishop Vincent Nicholls is offered to all parents who wish to have their children Baptised.

The parish supports many charities including Christian Aid, CAFOD, the Priest’s Training Fund, APF, the Johnson Fund and the Chinthowa Development Trust. The parish has helped the village of Chinthowa in Malawi since 2001 and has made a great difference to the lives of the villagers and orphans. Many of the orphans are sponsored by members of the parish. The project in 2009 is to build a junior primary school in the village.

A second collection is taken at some of the Sunday Masses to raise funds to maintain the fabric of the church and the church hall. Other major fund raising activities are the Summer Fete held in the school grounds and the Autumn Fayre held in the church hall. These are also important social events.

St. Benedict's Church Interior 2009

St. Benedict’s Church Interior, 2009

St Benedict’s Church Interior, 2009.

Celebrational Mass for 150 Year Anniversary

Celebrational Mass for 150 Year Anniversary