The Church of St. John of Jerusalem

(from the Tablet [London] 25th June, 1864)

On Friday, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, the New Church of the Order of Malta, in Great Ormond-street, dedicated to St. John of Jerusalem, was formally opened by His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, who is a Knight [Bailiff] Grand Cross of the Order.  The completion of this beautiful building, whose artistic influence makes it as interesting in one sense, as its sacred purpose and charitable intent render it admirable in another and a higher, has been looked for with anxious expectation, and its solemn inauguration on the day of the Great Feast of the Order, is an event on which the Catholic community in London are to be warmly congratulated.  The fact that they are indebted for a building which embodies the sublimest precepts of our religion, and exhibits to our unaccustomed eyes the perfection of an Italian ecclesiastical art, to the munificent generosity of Sir George Bowyer, M. P., is already well known to our readers, who have been kept duly informed of the progress of this good and gracious work.  The spectacle of St. John’s Day was most impressive, interesting, and affecting.  Nothing was left undone to give effect to the solemn ceremonial, which was witnessed by a large congregation, many of whom were not of our Faith, but there can never have been an occasion in which the difference can have made itself less felt ;  for the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth is not for those of our communion only, but for all those whose title is sickness and suffering.

            At half-past eleven, after the limited portion of the sacred building appropriated to the congregation was quite full, the procession entered.  The Cardinal was accompanied by the Bishop of Troy, the Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev. Monsignor Manning, the Very Rev. Dr. Hearn, the Very Rev. Canon O’Neill, and Monsignor Searle.  High Mass was sung by the Bishop of Southwark.  The music, which was exquisitely performed, was selected with admirable taste, and produced a solemn and delightful effect.  The “Kyrie,” “Sanctus,” “Benedictus,” and “Agnus Dei,” were from Haydn’s Imperial ;  the “Gloria” from his sixteenth Mass.  The “Cujus Animam,” from Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” was given at the Gradual, and the “Inflammatus” at the Offertory.  The “Credo” was Weber’s. The church was sumptuously decorated with the permanent ornaments of its rich style, and with the passing tribute of rich, rare, and profuse flowers.  Though there is little colouring to interfere with the simple white and gold which predominate throughout the building, that little touched by the sunshine shed a warm glow upon the scene beneath.  There around the altar were grouped the richly robed Ecclesiastics, the Acolytes in scarlet and white, where volumes of sweet sound and clouds of fragrant incense rose in to the air, where the Cardinal and Bishops sat enthroned, and where, between marble pilasters, with splendidly gilt capitals, and beneath a baldequin of scarlet and gold bearing the device of the eight-pointed cross of Malta, stood the High Altar on which for the first time the Holy Sacrifice was offered in a chalice, the splendid gift of His Holiness.  The pure white marble floor of the Sanctuary, polished like glass, caught the rays of the sun, as they fell from that beautiful dome, after lighting up the inscription, “Ecce Agnus Dei,” Ecce Salvator Hominum.”

At the right of the Sanctuary, and opposite to the Cardinal, sat Sir George Bowyer, the founder of the Church and Hospital, and in their stalls were, in their full robes, the Chaplains of the Order, Monsignor Eyre, Doctor Hearne, and the Rev. J. L. Patterson ;  and Lord Petre, Mr. Watts, Count Wezele, Mr. Pope Hennessy, M. P., Mr. Cashel Hoey, wearing their decorations as Knights or Companions [Donats]  of the Order of St. John. The Marchioness of Londonderry, a Lady of the Order, was also present at the foot of the altar.  Through the brightly gilded lattice of the Nuns Choir glimpses were caught of the ministering Sisters whose labours of love find their field here, and to whom this opening day was, indeed, one of rejoicing ;  and an open window, communicating with the Hospital, permitted the strains of sacred music and the voice of the Celebrant to reach the ears of the sufferers within, those to whom the Order of St. John does the honour of Christian chivalry, styling them “Our lords and masters, the sick poor.”  After the Gospel, an eloquent and impressive sermon was preached by the Cardinal, who took for his text that brief but distinct command, issued to His disciples by the Great Physician, “Heal the Sick.”  His Eminence drew a powerful picture of the duties and privileges entailed by this command, pointed out its exclusive adaptation to the Christian system, its absolute absence from Pagan and even Jewish legislation;  gave an interesting sketch of some of the most famous Continental hospitals ;  and concluded by an eloquent and affecting parallel between the ministrations of Our Saviour, and the purposes and utility of such an Hospital as that of St. John, where there is no distinction of creed, persons, or diseases ;  but where material sources only are within reach, no longer the miraculous means at the command of Him who “healeth all our diseases.”

            Amongst those invited, a great number of whom were present, the Prince and Princess of Squinzano, the Duchess of Buccleuch, the Marchioness of Lothian, Countess Apponyi.  The Earl of Durvenn, the Count and Countess of Fingall, the Countess of Mexborough, Viscount Southwell, Lord and Lady Killeen, Lord and Lady Vaux of Harrowden, Lord and Lady Arundell of Wardour, Lord and Lady Herries, Lord Clifford, Lord and Lady Lovat, Lord and Lady Stourton, Lord and Lady Norreys, Lord and Lady Stafford, Sir and Lady de Trafford, the Lord and Lady Mayoress of Dublin, the Lord and Lady Mayoress of London, Sir Piers and Lady Mostyn, Sir T. R. Gage, E. MacGoy, Esq., M. P., the French Ambassador, the Portuguese Minister, Mr. and Lady G. Fullerton, Count Wimpren, Count Delafeld,    Casalani, Esq., Mr. and Mrs. Mc’Kenna, Mr. and Mrs. Waterton, Mrs. Hibbert, Miss Tasker, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bowyer, Mrs. Cashel Hoey, Mr. Weld, Mr. and Mrs. H. Stonor, Mrs. and Miss Bellasis, M. de Guerra, &c.


Solemn Opening of the Church of St. John of Jerusalem

(from the Tablet [London], 2nd July, 1864)

The new and beautiful Church of St. John of Jerusalem, situated in Great Ormond-Street, was solemnly opened on yesterday week, as we stated in the Second Edition of our last issue.  Having on several occasions during the progress of the building of the church described many of its architectural details we need now only place before our readers the following sketch of its leading features :- This church, though small in its dimensions, owing to the limited site, and the fact of its being more a private conventual church than for the use of the public, is deserving of special notice as being, we believe, a unique specimen of a pure Roman church in England.  The style was adopted by the desire of the generous founder, Sir George Bowyer, whose long residence abroad has familiarised him with the forms of the Renaissance rather than of our natural architecture.  His views have been ably carried out by his architect, Mr. Goldie, of 34, Gloucester-place, Portman-square, London.  The façade, to quote from an architectural journal, is of two orders, Ionic and Corinthian.   Upon the upper cornice is inscribed –

Servi :  Dominorum :  Pauperum :  Infirmorum :

and on the lower are the following words :-

Ecclesia :  S :  Milit :  ord :  S :  Johan :  Hiersol :

In the pediment is the Cross of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Imperial crown and shield adorn the window, which forms a feature in the upper Order, flanked by two finely sculptured wreaths.  The principal entrance doorway is richly adorned with carved details, and is surmounted by a carved marble tablet on which is commemorated the facts of the foundation by Sir George Bowyer.  The whole of this front, with the stone balustrade to the street and flanking the steps is of Portland stone finely polished. The church within presents a parallelogram measuring 76 feet by 26.  Slight recesses stand in the place of transepts, and beyond them is the choir for the Religious of the adjoining Convent and Hospital, whilst between rises the cupola measuring 24 ft. 6 in. in diameter, 37 feet high from the ceiling of the church, and 75 feet from the floor.  The lower portion of the church, which forms the nave, has a vaulted ceiling embracing lunette windows in the groins, and spanned by richly paneled arches.  A very elaborate cornice runs round the church below the ceiling, and rests on pilasters of the Corinthian order, all formed of polished red marble with marble bases and plinths.  At the upper end of the nave a doorway gives access to the Hospital, and above it, carried on carved stone consoles, is a tribune of polished alabaster, opening into the lowest ward, for the use of the sick.  The floor of the nave is of coloured tiles arranged in a fret pattern.  A marble step lifts the sanctuary floor above the nave level, and this upper floor is entirely composed of white marble.  From this point of view, the dome with its pilasters, cornices and windows, is well seen, and forms a very fine and, to us in this country, a very novel feature.  The high altar stands immediately beneath the centre of the dome, and is surmounted by a sumptuous Baldachino of marbles of various colours, with a richly paneled ceiling of wood.  Two side altars, both ancient, stand on either side in the small transeptal recesses of which we spoke above.  The Nuns’ choir behind the high altar is fitted up on three sides with beautiful stalls in mahogany and pitch-pine, with carved elbows, and inlaid crosses of the Order of St. John, all polished.  Against the extreme end wall of the church is a large tribune, carried on stone brackets, with a gilt lattice front for the organ ;  this opens into the Convent staircase immediately adjoining.  The whole of the interior is decorated with gilding and colour, the latter very sparingly used ;  we presume that at some future period, more positive decoration, such as visitors to Italian churches are familiar with, will be introduced.  We have, on previous occasions, described the Convent and Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth, and we will therefore only now say, the same care and attention to comfort and sanitary arrangements is displayed in those buildings as has been bestowed upon matters of taste and detail in the Church.

            On the occasion of the opening the church presented a very imposing appearance, as there were present several ecclesiastical dignitaries and other Clergymen, and a large array of the leading lay Catholics of London.  Admission was obtained by tickets which had not been charged for, and it was announced that a collection would be made.  But this was only partly carried out, for there was no collection through the church at the usual offertory time;  and although there were plates held at the door as the congregation went out, a great many, especially ladies, passed another way to reach the street through the house, and thus to avoid being in a crush.  WE desire to call special attention to this point, because we are aware that funds for carrying on the truly noble work of the Hospital connected with the church are most urgently required, and we hope they will be soon and generously supplied.

            Amongst the Clergy present were His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster [Wiseman], the Right Rev. Dr. Grant, Bishop of Southwark, the Right Rev. Dr. Morris, Bishop of Troy, the Right Rev. Mgr. Manning [later to succeed Cardinal Wiseman as Archbishop of Westminster], the Very Rev. Mgr. Searle, the Very Rev. Canon Hunt, the Very Rev. Mgr. Charles Eyre (Chaplain), the Very Rev. Canon Oakeley, the Very Rev. Canon Last, the Very Rev. Dr. Hearn, V. G., (Chaplain), the Very Rev. Canon Danell, the Very Rev. Father Hermann, the Rev. J. L. Patterson (Chaplain), the Rev. Dr. Clifford (Chaplain of the Hospital), the Rev. P. Cavanagh, the Rev. A. Mills, the Rev. A. White, the Rev. F. Vasseur, the Franciscan Fathers from Peckham, and many other Clergymen.  Amongst the laity were the Marchioness of Londonderry, Lady Lothian, Lord Petre, Knight of the Order ;  Hon. Charles Langdale, Sir George Bowyer, Bart., M. P., Chevalier de Justice ;  J. P[ope]. Hennessey, M. P., Donat of the Order ;  Count de Wesele, Knight of the Order ;  John James Watts, Esq., Knight of the Order, Chevalier de Justice ;  J. C. Hoey, Esq., Donat of the Order ;  G. White, Esq., G. Goldie, Esq. [Architect of the Church], R. Walker, Esq., J. Burke, Esq., A. Pursell, Esq., &c., &c.

            The music was conducted by M. Leman, and was sung by Mlle. Martorelli, Mdlle. Andrea, Miss H. Gordon, Mr. Perren, Mr. Allen, and chorus.  The Mass was principally that of Haydn No. 3, but some parts were from Weber and other composers.  The music was executed in excellent style.

             The Right Rev. Dr. Grant was High Priest, the Very Rev. Canon Danell being Deacon, and the Rev. Father Acton Subdeacon.

            At the close of the Gospel

            His Eminence Cardinal Wiseman, taking for his text the words, “Heal the Sick”, preached a most impressive sermon, which we abstain from publishing in full, as we learn that a special report will coon appear, and will be sold for the benefit of the Hospital which adjoins the Church.  His Eminence commenced by speaking of the loving kindness and tenderness which marked the language of Our Lord in an especial manner whenever He spoke of the sick, and pointed out how such an example should lead us on to the performance of charitable works towards those who are afflicted with bodily infirmity.  The principle of charity had come down to us from the Saviour, and the duty of doing all in our power to fulfill the divine command, “Heal the Sick,” was one of a thoroughly imperative nature.  It was singular to observe that even the most refined and polished nations of antiquity paid no special attention to the sick, but that they were often left uncared for to die.  In fact the idea happily familiar to under the name of Charity, was not known to the pagan world.  The Romans, indeed, had a separate place to which they caused to be conveyed the soldiers who had been wounded, and the wealthy patricians had a species of hospital for their slaves during sickness.  But these arrangements were not analogous to the Christian Hospital, for investigation would show that the Hospital was a peculiarly Christian institution.  The Jew was told of old to break bread to the hungry and to clothe the naked ;  but to gather into one place the sick poor, not merely or primarily as a provision against want but to cure their maladies, belonged to Christian times alone.  Who was it that first introduced this great - this beneficent change?  It was Jesus of Nazareth.  Wherever He passed by there was the model of the hospital.  And what was the first ward?  It was in those streets and roads where the people brought the sick and laid them in rows, till the Good Physician should pass by and heal them.  His Eminence then proceeded to expound the parable of the Good Samaritan, showing how the kindly man who succoured the wounded traveler was not content to pour oil upon his wounds, to refresh him with wine, but he directed that he should be taken care of at the inn at his own expense.  And an inn in the Holy Land, known as the “Khan of the Good Samaritan,” still reminded the traveler of that beautiful parable.  In modern times, in all the great cities of Europe, one of the most important buildings was always the Hospital, ranking in prominence next to the royal palace and the town-hall.  And if an inquiry were made as to the origin of the hospital in each city, it would be found that in many cases it owed its foundation to a Bishop, thus showing how close was the link between the Church and practical charity.  In some of these hospitals, noblemen of very high rank ministered each day to the wants of the sick.  In one city (Seville), a Queen had been known to attend with affectionate care a ward in which several aged Priests lay sick, and reverently to kiss the hand of the eldest.  The Cardinal then spoke of the church in which the congregation was then assembled, the Church of St. John of Jerusalem, linking modern times with the services of those Knights Hospitallers, who were not content to resist pirates with the sword, but who esteemed it an honour to tend the sick in the hospitals.  It was a beautiful and truly noble institution, and had saints on its lists.  There were also good Sisters connected with the adjoining hospital, who would gently take care of the sick.  Well and appropriately was it that the principal hospital was in many places (in Paris, for instance), called Hotel Dieu – the Palace of God.  His Eminence spoke of the many difficulties which had attended the effort to found this charity and of the painful difficulties which still existed and rendered it unfortunately necessary to keep some of the beds empty, to the deep regret of the physicians.  He then spoke of the generosity of one (Sir George Bowyer), who had been so munificent towards the institution, and who had built the very beautiful church in which they were assembled, and concluded by earnestly and eloquently appealing to all who heard him to aid in sustaining a noble institution, which had for its object the care of the infirm, ever remembering that (as in the narrative connected with St. Elizabeth of Hungary), the very humblest of the sick poor might prove to be the Lord himself.

            The Indulgence usual on the opening of a church was then proclaimed, and the Mass was proceeded with.

            In the evening the church was filled again, and its appearance lighted up was truly splendid.  A very large number of gas-jets shone quite round the interior, and there were two circles of lighting the dome, the effect of which was very striking.  The “Stabat Mater” was beautifully sung with full instrumental accompaniment by the artistes who had sung the Mass.  There was Benediction and also veneration of the relics of Blessed Gerard, the founder of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, preceded by a lucid explanation by the Rev. J. L. Patterson, of the Catholic doctrine on the subject of relics.  The Very Rev. Canon Danell officiated at the evening service.

            We congratulate the Catholics of London on this most important addition to our ecclesiastical buildings, and we are sure that all will join in invoking a blessing on him whose generosity has placed such a church literally at the bedside of the sick poor.

This article was submitted by Charles Wright, the Master of Ceremonies of the Grand Priory of England of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta

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