The initial temptation to associate Saint James with the neo-gothic fashion of the Victorian and Edwardian age beckons a first time visitor, but I had several opportunities to visit the church and eventually decided that this church is more definitively gothic in the proper, medieval sense of the word than it is Puginesque. For one, although neo-gothic borrowed its look from the medieval ages it retained the baroque scheme of a church with a Marian altar and a Saint Joseph altar on either side of a shallow sanctuary that the laymen in the pew can see without obstruction. Neo-gothic also borrows its architectural perspective from the baroque, that of wide open churches with wide naves, few aisles, and a warm lighting. In all these respects, Saint James fails the test.
Instead, Saint James is a church with many aisles which, although amply wide, are marked by soaring arches culminating in distinct ceilings from each other. The result is the staggered effect that being in an aisle of Salisbury Cathedral has, that one senses privacy from the nave. The nave itself soars to an overwhelming height in contrast to the seemingly narrow width of the same place. Contributing to this medieval compartmentalized sensation are the distinct ornaments of the nave and aisles. The nave focuses on the altar with only a few devotion statues, notably Our Lady of Walsingham, visible; the aisles are barely visible even from the back of the nave. The aisles forgo the neo-gothic Mary & Joseph arrangement in favor of proper chapels for every devotion. Each altar has its own special purpose and is segmented from the main church by both an altar rail and a full wrought iron door. The chapels are dedicated to various purposes, some near and dear to English Catholics like the martyrs executed at the Tyburn "Tree". The various chapels, statues of saints in the rear, and assorted doors, lamps, railings, and kneelers were gifted to the church over a period of time and give the church of Saint James an authentic, lived-in demeanor that even the best contemporary churches elsewhere in London lack. Perhaps the best example is the Marian Chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, which was given by the wealthy family of a priest who died at a young age.
Saint James has a 1962 low Mass (hopefully the new new liturgical movement changes that), a Latin Novus Ordo, and occasional Vespers with their excellent choir. They offer Confession every day and other devotions. I believe Dr Laurence Hemming is, or was, the deacon of this parish. It is certainly an interesting place to visit when you are next in London and only a few blocks away from Regent's Park, my favorite park in the city.
|The sanctuary and altar|
|For perspective, the height of the place when facing back. The difference between|
neo-gothic broadness and a spacious gothic church that is tall is sheer size.
|The layers of chapels, three in this view, from the Epistle side of the sanctuary.|
|Ambo and sounding board on the Gospel side. Note the houseling cloth used for Communion.|
|The altar again, which includes a covering rather than a baldachin.|
|Our Lady of Walsingham, towards the altar|
|Chapel for the English martyrs|
|The exquisite chapel of the Assumption|
|The multi-level effect of gothic, which contributes to the sense of the depth in the church|
|Well used Confessionals|
|The Baptistry, correctly octagonal|
|A pieta, which attracted many people before and after the weekday Masses|
|This chapel at the rear of the church is dedicated to Saint Teresa and was donated by a guild|
in honor of a deceased pastor
|The same chapel includes its own Stations of the Cross, separate from those in the nave|
On an unrelated note, my views on the liturgy have not changed an iota, but I grow tired of reading liturgical polemics online. If the tide is slowly turning in a good direction, and it is, would not all that ink spilled on the Pauline Mass be better spent on the edification of those who could attend or promote the old liturgy? In the future I hope to do a post on the strange Rite of Michael Napier, which like the Rite of Econe and the Rite of Gricigliano does not follow any particular edition of the Roman books but is historically notable none the less.