20 November 2023

General de Gaulle and
the story of two Roman
Catholic churches
in Berkhamsted

The Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on Park Street, Berkhamsted, was built in 1966-1967 and was strongly influenced by Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

The Roman Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart on Park Street, Berkhamsted, stands on a large five-acre site, just west of the historic core of the town in Hertfordshire. It has an elegant design from 1966-1967, strongly influenced by Coventry Cathedral, and it was built ‘on restrained modern lines with a simple and economic plan-form to serve the new liturgy’ in post-Vatican II days.

The story of the church is much older, though, and has interesting links with the Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle during World War II.

A Roman Catholic mission was first established in Berkhamsted in 1909, when a church was built on Park View Road by Father Henry Harding (1840-1918), who also built churches in Boxmoor, Tring and Rickmansworth.

With the post-war growth of the area, the Edwardian church proved increasingly inadequate, and it was decided to build a new church, presbytery and parish hall on a new five-acre site, closer to the town centre.

The new church was designed by Campling and Iliffe of Sunningdale, Berkshire, their only church in the Diocese of Westminster. The parish priest at the time, Father William Campling, was a brother of the architect, according to Chris Fanning.

The church was designed ‘on restrained modern lines with a simple and economic plan-form to serve the new liturgy.’ It was designed to accommodate 300 people, with room for 50 more in the gallery. An intended tower was abandoned at the insistence of Cardinal John Heenan, who reversed the policy of his predecessor Cardinal William Godfrey, who encouraged building church towers.

Work started in March 1966 and the new church was opened by Cardinal Heenan on 4 June 1967. The main contractors were a local building firm, Donald Lockhart of Berkhamsted. The church was consecrated by Cardinal Basil Hume on 15 September 1980.

The church is built in a T-shap plan, with three areas of seating arranged in a nave and two transepts around the sanctuary. There is Lady Chapel off the north transept and the former baptistery is located under the gallery at the west end of the nave.

At the sides of the nave, the main windows are angled inwards to receive light from the west, strongly influenced by Sir Basil Spence’s designs for the newly-built Coventry Cathedral.

The statue of the Sacred Heart on the central arch was brought there from the old church on Park View Road.

Father Henry Hardy, who established the Roman Catholic mission in Berkhamsted, would travel along the canal between Boxmoor, Berkhamsted and Tring with his pony and trap, celebrating Mass and establishing mass centres that eventually became parishes. He was related to Captain Hardy who was present at the death of Nelson.

Father Hardy established the first Church of the Sacred Heart in Berkhamsted at 1 Park View Road. The church was built in 1909 with a slate roof, tower and gable ends. The purple unrendered brickwork has red brick dressings to the verges, cornices, window openings, buttresses and the tower shaft, with its louvred timber bellcote. There is a tall brick stack on south side.

The church was originally a single-storey building, built at right angles to Park View Road with an aisle on the north side and an entrance in south flank wall. The gable to the street has prominent central brick shaft buttress with offset, bracketed timber base that once held the statue of the Sacred Heart, later moved to the new church.

During World War II, the exiled French leader and future President of France, General Charles de Gaulle, set up home with his family in Rodinghead, a house in the Ashridge area near Berkhamsted. He lived there in 1941-1942, and regularly attended Sunday Mass in the church.

The old church continued in use as a Catholic Church until 1967, when the new church opened on Park Street. Today, the former church on Park View Road is a commercial office.

The former Church of the Sacred Heart on Park View Road, Berkhamsted, was built in 1909 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (16) 20 November 2023

The Emperor Nero was the first to try to build the Corinth Canal, using a workforce of 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Second Sunday before Advent (19 November 2023).

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (20 November) remembers both Edmund (870), King of the East Angles and Martyr, and Priscilla Lydia Sellon (1876), a Restorer of the Religious Life in the Church of England. Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on the seven churches in cities or places that give their names to the titles of nine letters or epistles by Saint Paul: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki.

My reflections this morning follow this pattern:

1, A reflection on a Pauline church;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Bema of Corinth, later the site of the Church of Saint Paul (Photograph: Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth)

Saint Paul’s Corinth:

The Apostle Paul wrote 14 of the 27 books the New Testament. He founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe from the mid-40s to the mid-50s AD, and wrote letters to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki.

Saint Paul appears to have been very disappointed with Athens. He did not visit it again, and it is never mentioned in his letters. When he left Athens he travelled 80 km west to Corinth (Κόρινθος), then the capital of the Roman Province of Achaia and effectively the capital of Greece.

Corinth was destroyed by the Romans, but was re-established by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE, and was made the capital of Achaia by Augustus. It was built on the southern extremity of the isthmus connecting the mainland with the Morea, and was on the great traffic route between East and West. It had two magnificent, lively and crowded harbours, one on each side of the isthmus.

Corinth was a centre of traffic, wealth and vice when Saint Paul arrived, probably about the end of 51 CE, and he spent up to 18 months there (see Acts 18: 9-11). He lived there with two Christian Jews, Aquila and Priscilla, who were refugees from Rome.

He began by preaching in the synagogue every Sabbath, ‘and he persuaded the Jews and the Greek.’ Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and his family, and several of the Corinthians were converted and baptised. Some of them noble, wealthy, and learned people were converted too, but the great majority were neither learned, nor powerful, nor noble (see I Corinthians 1: 26). During this long period, Christianity was planted in Corinth and in other parts of Achaia, especially the eastern port of Cenchreæ.

Saint Paul wrote two letters or epistles to the Corinthians, I and II Corinthians, addressed to the community that he had founded in Corinth. They are now the seventh and eighth books in canon of the New Testament.

The first letter, I Corinthians, was written from Ephesus ca 53–54 CE. It deals with problems that arose in the early years after his initial missionary visit (ca 50–51) to Corinth and his establishment of a Christian community there. Saddened by reports of dissension, Paul addresses the issues dividing the church in Corinth, including morals, marriage, quarrelling, sharing and jealousy. Then in Chapter 13, one of the most significant of all Pauline texts, he explains that no gift in ministry has meaning unless it is accompanied by love.

For me, the core of Saint Paul’s teaching is found in this letter: ‘Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends’ (I Corinthians 13: 4-8a).

The second letter, II Corinthians, was written from Macedonia ca 55 CE. It may have been written after an actual visit by Paul to Corinth, when he was insulted and challenged. Because of this, Paul resolved not to go to Corinth again in person. Instead, he wrote an intervening letter (2: 3-4; 7: 8, 12), now lost, in which he told the Corinthians of his anguish and displeasure, and sent Titus to deliver the letter. Now, in this letter, Paul expresses his joy at the news he has heard from Titus, that the Corinthians have changed, and he urges them to give generously to the poor in Jerusalem.

The last four chapters differ markedly in tone from the earlier chapters, suggesting that chapters 10-13 may have been written earlier, before Paul had received Titus’ message, or are a misplaced part of another letter to the Corinthians.

After writing II Corinthians, Paul stayed in Corinth for about three months in the late winter, and there he wrote his Epistle to the Romans.

While Saint Paul was in Corinth, he was brought before the proconsul, Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, Seneca’s brother, accused of illegal teaching. Gallio, however, refused to judge what he saw as an internal religious dispute among the Jews.

According to tradition, the site of Paul’s trial in Corinth was the Bema, a large elevated rostrum in the centre of the Roman Forum and from where the city’s officials addressed the public. Probably because of the monument’s connection to Saint Paul, the Bema was turned into a church during the Byzantine period.

Ancient Corinth was one of the largest and most important cities of Greece, with a population of 90,000 in 400 BEC. The Romans demolished Corinth in 146 BCE, built a new city in its place in 44 BCE, and later made it the provincial capital of Greece.

The city was rebuilt after earthquakes in the years 365 and 375, Alaric’s invasion in 396, and an earthquake in 856. Four churches were located in the city proper, another on the citadel of the Acrocorinth, and a monumental basilica at the port of Lechaion.

When an earthquake destroyed Corinth in 1858, the present, modern city of Corinth was founded as Nea Korinthos (Νέα Κόρινθος) or New Corinth, 3 km north of the ancient city. It has been rebuilt after earthquakes and fires in 1928 and 1933.

The Corinth Canal, between the western Mediterranean and the Aegean, is about 4 km east of the city, cutting through the Isthmus of Corinth that connects the Peloponnese to mainland Greece. The canal was cut through the isthmus at sea level, without locks. It is 6.4 km in long and 21.3 metres wide, making it impassable for most modern ships.

The first attempt to build the canal was made to build it in the 1st century CE. Julius Caesar and Caligula both considered digging the canal but died before starting the project. The emperor Nero was the first to try to build the canal, with a workforce of 6,000 Jewish prisoners of war.

Modern construction started in 1882, after Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire, but the original builders went bankrupt. It was completed in 1893, but because the canal is so narrow, and due to navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslips, it failed to attract traffic, and it is now used mainly for tourist traffic.

The modern cathedral in the centre of Corinth is dedicated to the Apostle Paul, patron saint of the city. The cathedral was built in the 1936-1937 on the site of an earlier cathedral destroyed in the earthquake in 1928.

The cathedral was designed by the architect Nikolaos Kotseronis of Corinth, and it is said he was inspired by the church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople. It is a three-aisle basilica with a dome. The central aisle is dedicated to Apostle Paul and the two side aisles to his disciples, Saint Timothy and Saint Titus. The bell tower is almost 30 metres high.

The modern Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in Corinth, designed in the 1930s by the architect Nikolaos Kotseronis

Luke 18: 35-43 (NRSVA):

35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ 38 Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me see again.’ 42 Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

The Temple of Apollo among the ruins in Corinth … seven of its 38 Doric columns are still in place

Today’s Prayers (Monday 20 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’. This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (20 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray that girls around the world might grow up knowing that they are safe and have access to education and employment opportunities.

The Peirene fountain in Corinth was said to be favoured by Pegasus and sacred to the Muses … poets would travel there to drink and receive inspiration (Photograph: MM/ Wikipedia)

The Collect:

Eternal God,
whose servant Edmund kept faith to the end,
both with you and with his people,
and glorified you by his death:
grant us such steadfastness of faith
that, with the noble army of martyrs,
we may come to enjoy the fullness of the resurrection life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Edmund:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Rome)

Continued Tomorrow (Galatia)

An ancient street in the ruins of Corinth (Photograph: MM/ Wikipedia)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The walled gates of Acrocorinth (Photograph: MM/ Wikipedia)