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St Mary’s, Rotterdam

June 20, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

There has been a sizeable English community in Rotterdam since the days of the Reformation, when many Reformists fled Catholic England and established themselves in the comparative safety of Holland. At the time, Rotterdam’s status as of the main centres in which these refugees settled earned it the nickname ‘Little London’. Later, during the Netherlands’ brief period as an English protectorate between 1585 and 1588, some of the 6,000 troops sent by Elizabeth I were stationed in the town of Brielle, just outside Rotterdam.

It was around this time that cloth traders, some of whom had had their activities displaced from Antwerp further down the coast, began to settle in the city. By 1635, this mercantile community had grown and developed to such an extent that it began holding its own religious services, sharing St Peter’s Church in Hoogstraat with Rotterdam’s French inhabitants. As such, St Peter’s became known as the French and English Court Church. However, it was an arrangement that was short-lived – within just a few years the majority of the English traders had moved to nearby Dordrecht, taking their chaplain with them.

There were no more Anglican services in Rotterdam for some time. Yet a contingent of English merchants stayed and, in 1699, 17 of these remaining families agreed to guarantee the stipend for a new priest, to the tune of Fl 450 per annum. Services began in a converted warehouse, but over subsequent years enough was raised through donations to construct a purpose-built building, ‘The English Church of St Mary’s in Rotterdam’, consecrated in 1708. The new church could count some extremely distinguished figures among its benefactors, including Queen Anne, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Marlborough, and the chaplain’s stipend was paid by the British government. There was also a close link to the seafaring community, with the money for the organ (installed in 1733) donated mainly by the captains of London and Dublin vessels.

The congregation initially flourished in its new home. However, the Napoleonic invasion in 1794 saw many from the English community leave Rotterdam, including their priest, the Rev William Williams. The few who remained attended either the Scots Church or the English Presbyterian Church. St Mary’s, meanwhile, was used by the occupying French forces as a prison, a naval arsenal and a granary. In 1808, its possessions were confiscated and divided equally among Rotterdam’s other churches, and in 1811 the wardens were ordered to surrender the church registers to the authorities. Even after the city’s liberation, things did not immediately improve; Russian soldiers used the building as a stable. Thus things were in a rather sorry state when the church council regained possession in 1816, and it was only with the assistance of the British and Dutch governments that they were able to return St Mary’s to its intended purpose, with services resuming the following year.

Yet the church’s run of misfortune was far from over. In 1864, the tower had to be demolished after being struck by lightning. At the same time, subsidence was found to threaten the rest of the structure and could only be remedied through costly repairs. Finally, in 1873, the British government withdrew its vital financial support. It took St Mary’s until 1878 to find a new patron, the Colonial and Continental Church Society (today the Intercontinental Church Society), an organisation which still owns the building to this day and retains the right to appoint the chaplain.

This new source of funding marked the tentative beginnings of another renaissance for the church. With a growing number of sailors passing through Rotterdam’s busy port as a result of booming international trade, St Mary’s established a seamen’s centre together with the Scots Church and, from 1893, the Missions to Seamen. St Mary’s original facilities now being beyond repair, it was decided to build a new combined church and seamen’s club on a donated plot of land in the district of Delfshaven. The interior of the old church was duly sold and the building demolished in 1913 (a move berated by the British journal Architectural Review as an act of ‘vandalism’), and a replacement built, based on a neo-Gothic design by Dutch architect J. Verheul Dzn.

Yet Europe, and with it St Mary’s, was soon plunged into the turmoil of the two world wars. In each of these, the occupying German forces requisitioned the church and put it to use for military purposes. In the First World War, St Mary’s was used for the internment of prisoners of war. The then chaplain, Rev H. Haworth Coryton, who remained in the Netherlands during the hostilities, regularly visited prisoners held at Groningen prison camp in the north of the country in order to minister to them. During the Second World War, the church’s possessions were confiscated and its building was used first as sleeping quarters for German troops and then as a place for storing motorcycles and petrol, before finally becoming the German Naval Garrison Church in late 1940. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the congregation were displaced to the Old Catholic Church, where they worshipped until the end of the war and the return of St Mary’s to them.

The post-war years saw the church flourish as Rotterdam regained its importance as a trading centre and as a consequence of a large number of Anglo-Dutch marriages. The 1950s saw the installation of stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel and of a peal of bells in the tower, and the 250th anniversary year in 1958 was marked by a visit from HM Queen Elizabeth II, HRH Prince Philip, HM Queen Juliana and TRH Prince Bernhard, Princess Beatrix and Princess Irene.

St Mary’s has recently undergone extensive restoration work to preserve this wonderful church for future generations. In 2008, it celebrated its 300th anniversary at an event attended by HM Queen Beatrix – an honour which underscores the important role St Mary’s continues to play in Rotterdam’s social tapestry. Services are held twice weekly, on Sundays and Thursdays, and are open to people of all denominations.

Based on a number of articles on the St Mary’s website.

St Boniface, Antwerp

June 17, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

The history of the Anglican Church in Antwerp is intimately intertwined with the city’s history as a great trading centre in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. The first English settlers were cloth merchants in around the 12th century. Their guild, the Fraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury, received extensive privileges from the Duke of Brabant in 1305, and subsequently went on to establish its own chapel, staffed by guild-appointed chaplains and with furnishings imported from England. This chapel was probably dedicated to the guild’s patron saint, St Thomas of Canterbury (St Thomas Becket).

The early years of the 16th century saw Antwerp become a haven for English Reformers fleeing persecution. Among these was William Tyndale, whose famous translation of the Bible was to heavily influence the authors of the King James Version a century later. Antwerp’s authorities tolerated the presence of the Reformers because of the crucial importance of the English merchants for the local economy, but as Reformation politics played out across the Channel and tensions between England and the Low Countries’ Spanish rulers escalated, this situation became increasingly strained. Elizabeth I’s government had initially enjoyed comparatively warm relations with Spain, but these gradually deteriorated, not helped by English sympathy for Dutch Protestant rebels. The Company of Merchant Adventurers, the successor organisation to the Fraternity of St Thomas of Canterbury, introduced a statute insisting that all its members must become members of the Church of England, and reports were sent back to Phillip II branding the English merchants as ‘heretics’. A series of increasingly severe edicts against Protestants were issued, yet for a time Antwerp’s authorities continued to leave the merchants in peace. This lasted until the city became a key centre of the Dutch Revolt against Spanish rule, in which England sided with Protestant rebels. When Spanish forces regained control of Antwerp in 1585 after a lengthy siege, Protestants were ordered to leave the city, depriving it of its most prosperous citizens. It was just one of many blows to Antwerp’s status as a great trading centre. In 1614, a dispute between James I and the Dutch Republic led to short-lived boycott of English cloth. Finally in 1648 the Peace of Münster – which accorded Dutch independence formal recognition – closed the River Schledt, the great artery linking Antwerp to the North Sea, to shipping. For this proud city, which just a century before had accounted for around 40% of world trade, it was the end of an era. Now, the merchants who had once been such a key part of its economy took their activities elsewhere, notably to Rotterdam and Hamburg.

Antwerp then remained without a sizeable British community, or a place of Anglican worship, for nearly 200 years. It was only with the reopening of the Schledt to trade following the establishment of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 that British merchants slowly returned. At first, they held services in a room at the Bourse, but soon received permission to share a building, the Church of the Annonciades, with the city’s other Protestant denominations. Yet this arrangement entailed considerable inconvenience, and so they petitioned the government for their own church and a share of the Church of the Annonciades’ subsidy. On 13 June 1821, a royal decree put another building, the Chapelle des Tanneurs, at the congregation’s sole disposal, but the funding was made contingent on the services conforming to the rites of the Dutch Presbyterian Church, something they had to refuse on principle. They were therefore forced to fund the church themselves until the Belgian secession in 1830, when the new government accorded them the same subsidy granted to all other officially recognised churches.

The Chapelle des Tanneurs served as the home of Antwerp’s Anglican congregation until 1910, when it was replaced by the current building. The idea of constructing a new church was first raised in 1885 after it became clear that the Chapelle required urgent investment in order to fund repairs. Plans were drawn up for a new building, plus a vicarage and schoolrooms, and after much delay a plot of land was purchased in 1904. Sadly, the chaplain, the Rev Michael Kearney, who had done much to advance the project, passed away shortly before the church’s completion in 1910. He is remembered in a stained glass window in the south aisle. The congregation also went to great efforts to raise the money to build a church hall, which would have opened in autumn 1914 had it not been for the outbreak of World War I.

When hostilities began, many of the church’s members initially remained in Antwerp. Shelling of the city began shortly before midnight on 7 October 1914, blowing out the windows of the vicarage and the church’s East Window. An operation was launched to evacuate Antwerp’s 1,500 British residents by sea. When the city fell on 9 October, responsibility for the protection of British interests and property passed to the American Consul, Tuck Sherman. He took the church’s altar crosses, other brasses and Communion silver to his own home for safe-keeping and went to great efforts to ensure that neither the church nor the vicarage were left unoccupied. In the absence of a chaplain, he himself read either Matins or Evensong on a weekly basis, and his parents took up residence in the vicarage to prevent it from being requisitioned by the Germans. When the United States entered the war in 1917, Mr Sherman passed the church’s brasses and silver to the wife of the Danish Consul, herself British by birth, and the Dutch Consul assumed responsibility for safeguarding the buildings. In the latter part of the war, the Rev H.S.T. Gahan, the Anglican chaplain of Christ Church Brussels, was able to regularly visit British prisoners of war held in Antwerp.

The war left the congregation much diminished and the church initially facing not insignificant financial difficulties. However, despite this, and due in no small part to the dedication of the church’s members and certain individuals in particular, the interwar years nonetheless witnessed a revival. Many of the stained glass windows, donated in memory of past parishioners, date from this period, as does the mosaic situated beneath the East Window, the money for which was raised by the congregation.

The arrival of the Second World War and the threat of impending German occupation saw the majority of the congregation depart once again in May 1940. As 25 years earlier, the church was initially placed under the protection of the US Consul. Nevertheless, within just three months the vicarage and its garden had become overgrown and open windows left the interior exposed to the elements. As such Mrs Flandre, a member of the congregation who had remained behind, agreed with the Consul that she should move in to prevent it from falling into disrepair. Shortly thereafter, the Germans began using the church for their own services and their chaplain demanded the return of the Communion silver, which Mrs Flandre had hidden in the vicarage’s gas oven. She denied all knowledge of the silver’s whereabouts but, all the same, decided it best to find an alternative hiding place and so entrusted it to her doctor for the duration of the war. It remained in his possession until Antwerp was liberated by British troops in September 1944, when it was returned to its rightful home at the church. St Boniface then spent a brief period under the control of the British military authorities, with services conducted by army chaplains, until the pre-war chaplain, the Rev R. Wainwright, returned in February 1947.

St Boniface has recently celebrated its centenary and begun a major restoration project to preserve this recognised state monument for future generations. Amid this beautiful setting, the clergy and congregation aim to provide an open and welcoming spiritual home for both residents of Antwerp and visitors. Morning services are held weekly, with Evensong once a month. The church is also engaged in a number of charity projects and holds a series of social and fundraising events throughout the year.

Based on an article published on the St Boniface website.

St Andrew’s, Moscow

May 12, 2011 in Anglican Churches in Europe

The foundations which would allow the establishment of the Anglican community in Russia were laid by Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible), who reigned between 1533 and 1584. In an effort to promote trade with Europe, he gave permission for foreign communities of merchants to worship according to their own traditions, complete with their own church buildings and ministers. Russia’s first Anglican church was most probably built in Archangel in the seventeenth century. Archangel, like Hamburg, was a bustling centre of trade, with the British Isles among Russia’s foremost trading partners. From around 1705, Archangel’s chaplain regularly travelled to Moscow to hold services there. In those days, with St Petersburg the capital, Moscow’s British community consisted mainly of young merchants living far from their homes and families. As might be expected, drunkenness and disorder were common, frequently with loss of life.  Women were few and far between – in 1706, they numbered only eight in the congregation, six of whom were probably servants. Thus Moscow remained a small and isolated outpost of the Anglican Church, becoming one of four congregations in Russia, the others being Archangel, St Petersburg [established 1754] and Kronstadt [established 1771]). Like the others, it was supported and administered by the Russia Company, a powerful trading company responsible for much of Anglo-Russian trade. It appointed the chaplains and provided the financial means to maintain the congregations, an echo of our own links to the Merchant Adventurers at St Thomas Becket.

The Anglican community in Moscow remained small until the nineteenth century, when the city underwent rapid industrialisation. With this blossoming came the settlement of numerous professional families involved in trade and manufacturing, and thus the congregation grew sufficiently for it to obtain first its own chaplain in 1825 (prior to which it had been served from first Archangel and then St Petersburg) and then its own church building in 1828. The British (Anglican) Chapel, as it was officially called, was far more than just a place of worship – it was the heart of the British community. Over the subsequent years, its facilities grew to include stables, a coach house, a hearse house, a library and a school. It thus exerted a stabilising influence on the British population, providing a focus for social life and encouraging families to put down roots. Furthermore, the chaplains and congregation were also committed to playing a role in wider society. An orphanage was founded in 1831, and places at the school were open to Russian and British children alike.

Eventually, the congregation outgrew the small chapel and the Russia Company was persuaded of the need to construct a larger building. Thus it was that the English architect Richard Knill Freeman was commissioned to build a replacement on the existing site, a project completed in 1884. What he created was, as noted in 1915 by Herbert Bury, Bishop for North and Central Europe, ‘almost startlingly like, it seems in that ancient capital, to a bit of a London suburb.’ The congregation gave generously to support the project, for although the Russia Company contributed 25,000 roubles towards it, this fell far short of the final bill of 213,616 roubles ‘exclusive of stained glass and other presentations’. The windows, almost all of which contained stained glass, were contributed mainly by families in memory of deceased relatives, and fittings and furnishings were in many cases donated by members of the congregation according to their profession. Thus the ‘draperies and fittings for the nave doors’ were supplied by Muir and Mirrieles, a Scottish-owned department store, and the boiler, wrought iron church gates and railings were a gift of the Smith family, who owned a local boiler factory.

The story of how the church came to be dedicated to St Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, is an interesting one and highlights that life at the chaplaincy was not always as harmonious as might be supposed. The congregation was roughly equally divided between English (Anglican) and Scottish (Presbyterian) members. Neither could agree on how the church was to be run, and at one point the dispute was so bitter that each side appointed its own wardens and there were fights over which side should have the minute book. Foremost among the Scots’ complaints was the style of worship. The clergy, being licensed to officiate by the Bishop of London, were obliged to conduct services according to the Book of Common Prayer, which was unpalatable to those of a Presbyterian persuasion. One former chaplain later recalled: “My work in Moscow was difficult and uphill… for I am a good and definite Churchman, and yet I had to persuade people, who were really Dissenters, to look at Church matters from the Church point of view.” Thus the decision to dedicate the new building to St Andrew was a compromise in return for the Scots permitting services to be conducted according to the rites of the Church of England. Not that this entirely resolved the disputes: in December 1911, the then chaplain, Rev Frank North, was criticised by the committee for decorating the church with flowers and evergreen foliage at Christmas. Thus the old tensions appear to have persisted for decades afterwards.

What did successfully bring the congregation together, however, was a shared spirit of national identity. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901, for instance, saw a profound outpouring of grief. Such occasions also underlined the importance of the British community’s role in Muscovite society. A year later, the service to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII drew 285 people, including, as the committee minutes record, ‘the Consuls of most foreign nations’. When Edward died in 1910, those attending the memorial service (550 in all) included the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and her retinue. Yet despite taking pride in their shared national roots, the congregation was also deeply involved in helping the wider community. Jane McGill, who funded the construction of the parsonage in memory of her deceased husband, also established a hospital. Later, during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the Ladies’ Committee helped to raise funds for wounded Russian soldiers, stating that ‘although we are living here in a foreign country, yet it is our duty to help those who are… to a large extent, our personal and good friends in their hour of need.’

This relatively stable state of affairs was thrown into turmoil in 1917 by the October Revolution. During the fighting, the church tower was commandeered the Bolsheviks, who used it for a machine gun emplacement. When the fighting had passed, the chaplain and his family emerged from their hiding place in the basement to find ‘many spent cartridges in the courtyard and two large pools of blood.’ Nor was this the only immediate consequence of the Revolution for the church. The church strong room, which had contained valuables deposited there for safekeeping by members of the congregation, was raided by the new authorities, and some 126 locked boxes and 193,000 roubles in cash taken. The upheaval also brought hardship and persecution, and here the incredible contribution of Rev Frank North and his wife Margaret deserves to be noted. In the turbulent times between the October Revolution and leaving Russia on the final train to Helsinki in March 1920, they visited those in prison, protested to the authorities about cases of ill-treatment and were themselves imprisoned several times. They bought food on the black market to feed the weak and destitute, turning part of the parsonage into a canteen. Finally, when it became clear they would have to leave, they did not do so without first organising the evacuation of the British community. For their efforts, they both received CBEs for services to the community, and Rev North became chaplain of Helsinki or, as it was renamed, ‘Helsinki with Moscow’, a symbol that St Andrew’s, though vacant, was not forgotten.

Under the Soviet Union, the church became a hostel and then, from 1964, offices and recording studios for the state-owned recording company, Melodiya, whilst the parsonage became first the Finnish Embassy and then the Estonian Legation. Anglican worship in Moscow was restricted to occasional services held by visiting clergy, often at the British Embassy. Finally, in 1991, Rev Tyler Strand, the Helsinki chaplain, managed to persuade Melodiya to allow him to hold services in the church on Sundays, and on 15 July the Eucharist was celebrated there for the first time since 1920. From then on, services took place roughly fortnightly the appointment of a full-time chaplain, Rev Canon Chad Coussmaker, in 1993. What has followed since is a process of gradual transition back to the building’s original use as a place of worship. When HRH Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1994, she was told by President Boris Yeltsin that the church was being returned to the congregation, yet it was 2001 before Melodiya fully vacated the premises. Today, St Andrew’s is once again a thriving community, with weekly attendance numbering approximately 150 people drawn from a wide range of national backgrounds, and around 200 for major festivals. The tower is home to an Anglican–Orthodox education centre, St Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute.

this article is based on the articles by Jean Coussmaker that appear on the St Andrew’s website.

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