Brompton Oratory in London
The Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as Brompton Oratory, is a Roman Catholic church in South Kensington, London. It is situated on Brompton Road, next to the Victoria and Albert Museum, at the junction with Cromwell Gardens.
John Henry Newman converted to Catholicism in 1845; and founded Birmingham Oratory, dedicated to Saint Philip Neri. Other converts, including Frederick William Faber founded a London Oratory in premises near Charing Cross. They purchased a 3.5 acre property in November 1852 for £16,000; in the (then) semi-rural western suburbs. An Oratory House was built first, followed shortly by a temporary church; both designed by J. J. Scoles. An appeal was launched in 1874 for funds to build a church. Within the Oratory House is a chapel, known as the Little Oratory.
The Church still belongs to and is served by the Congregation of the London Oratory (see London Oratory). There are two other Oratories in the UK, the Birmingham Oratory and the Oxford Oratory.
A design from Herbert Gribble, then 29, won a competition in March 1876. The foundation stone was laid in June 1880; and the new church was consecrated on 16 April 1884. The church is faced in Portland stone, with the vaults and dome in concrete; the latter was heightened in profile and the cupola added in 1895, standing 200 ft tall. It was the largest Catholic church in London before the opening of Westminster Cathedral in 1903.<ref name=Oratory/>
The competition specified the 'Italian Renaissance' style, but the Roman Baroque and Wren are also drawn on. Devon marble is used in the major order of pilasters and the minor order of columns, with more exotic marbles in the apse and the altars, with carvings in metalwork, plasterwork, wood and stone. It houses notable Italian Baroque sculpture: the Twelve Apostles by Giuseppe Mazzuoli (1644-1725) acquired from Siena Cathedral in 1895 and the Lady Altar, with sculptures by Tommaso Rues (1650-1690 ca.), from Brescia. Gribble's decorative scheme for the apse was not proceeded with, but the decoration of the St Wilfrid and the St Mary Magdalen chapels do reflect his intentions. The St Philip Neri altar is to his design. The second great decorative campaign (1927–32) was by the Italian architect C. T. G. Formilli, in mosaic, plaster and woodwork;the cost exceeding his estimate of £31,000. Further decoration marked the 1984 centenary. The reredos of Doric columns in yellow scagliola (2006) of the St Joseph chapel and a new altar and reredos of the Blessed Cardinal Newman (2010) are by Russell Taylor, from Russell Taylor Architects. The statue of Newman in cardinal's robes (1896) is by L. J. Chavalliaud in architectural setting by Thomas Garner. The church boasts magnificent vestments and altar plate, and the house an important library.
It has strong ties with the nearby London Oratory School, and serves as its 'official' church for all holy days of obligation.
In 1865 Stéphane Mallarmé married Marie Gerhard in Brompton Oratory. In 1889 Edward Elgar married Alice Roberts there. In 1891, Ernest Dowson officially became a Catholic at the church. In 1918 Matyla Ghyka married Eileen O'Conor there. In 1926, Alfred Hitchcock married Alma Reville there.
Here in front of the statue of St Peter, under the choir loft (a reproduction of that in St Peter's) that the medieval dedication of England to St Peter and Our Lady was repeated by Cardinal Vaughan, as a defiant riposte to the Erastianism of English official religion The congregation is one of the largest Catholic congregations in London.
During the cold war era, the area between the pillars and the wall at the front of the Brompton Oratory was frequently used as a dead drop by soviet spies in Britain, from where they could communicate with Moscow.
In September 2010 decorative banners were erected at the Brompton Oratory to celebrate the beatification of Cardinal Newman during the Pope's visit to London.
It is part of the tradition of the Oratory in England to ensure that the liturgy is celebrated in a dignified and worthy manner. Mass is celebrated every day in Latin in both the later and the 1962 forms of the Roman Rite.
The London Oratory is internationally recognised as one of the outstanding custodians of classic Catholic liturgical traditions. Solemn Latin Mass and Vespers are celebrated on all Sundays and obligatory Holydays in the year. In particular, the great liturgies of Christmas, Holy Week and Easter attract packed congregations.
To serve the liturgy, the Oratory Fathers have fostered a unique musical establishment comprising three separate choirs plus a professional music staff.
The London Oratory Choir is an adult, professional chamber choir serving the major liturgical celebrations in the Oratory Church, including solemn Latin Mass and Vespers on all the Sundays of the year and for major feasts. Dating from the establishment of the London Oratory on its present Brompton Road site in 1854, the London Oratory Choir is England’s senior professional Catholic choir, and has an international reputation as one of the world’s leading exponents of choral music within the traditional Roman Rite, noted especially for its performances of Renaissance polyphony and the Masses of the Classical Viennese school. Recent Directors of Music have included Henry Washington (1935–1971), John Hoban (1971–1995), Andrew Carwood (1995–1999) and Patrick Russill (1999-to date).
The London Oratory Junior Choir was founded in 1973 by John Hoban to give boys and girls together an opportunity to serve the liturgy in a great church. In addition to singing regularly one evening service and one Sunday (English) Mass every week, the Oratory Junior Choir is also active outside the Oratory. Noted for its free tone and forthright delivery, it has appeared in all London’s major concert halls and at the Proms, with conductors including Andrew Parrott, Nicholas Kraemer and Sir John Eliot Gardiner (including prize-winning recordings of Monteverdi’s Vespers in St Mark's Basilica in Venice, and Bach’s St Matthew Passion). Since 1979 it has provided the children’s chorus for Royal Ballet productions at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. From 1984 its Director was Patrick Russill, and since 2005 its Director has been Charles Cole.
The London Oratory School Schola choir was founded in 1996. Educated in the Junior House of the London Oratory School in Fulham (London), boys from the age of 7 are given choral and instrumental training within a musical environment underpinned by Catholic traditions. The Schola is regarded as one of London's leading boys' choirs and sings at the Saturday 6.00pm Mass in term time, as well as at daily prayer services and at Benediction in the chapel of The London Oratory School. The current director of the Schola is Lee Ward. In addition to liturgical and concert performances, the choir has recorded film soundtracks and audio albums.
The London Oratory has a rich organ tradition, its Organists including Ralph Downes (1936–1977), Patrick Russill (1977–99) and John McGreal (1999-to date). The organ of 45 stops, 3 manuals and pedals, built by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd, 1952–54, to the designs of Ralph Downes, was the first church organ in London to be built on neo-classical lines, and is considered one of the finest British organs built since World War II.
Michael Napier & Alistair Laing (eds.),The London Oratory Centenary 1884-1984, (Trefoil London 1985), cf R O'Donnell, 'The Architecture of the London Oratory Churches', pp. 21–47.