Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Aristocratic Roman Catholic Chapel

Roman Catholics in England labored under severe disadvantages. Before the passage of relief acts culminating in Catholic Emancipation in 1829, a Catholic couldn't attend a university, enter the armed services or professions, or sit in Parliament, without paying lip service to the Church of England. Nevertheless, there were a number of noble families that remained catholic and some of them were rich. The Arundells of Wardour, in Wiltshire, are an interesting example. By cleverly marrying a succession of Catholic heiresses, Lord Arundell held one of England's most prosperous estates in the second half of the eighteenth century.

In the 1770s he commissioned the architect James Paine to build New Wardour Castle, a huge Palladian mansion that included an elaborate chapel. While not quite secret, the chapel was discreetly incorporated into the house so it couldn't be seen from the outside. Inside was another matter: the decor is ornately Roman in style. The 8th Baron Arundell brought a socking great marble altar from Rome and the chapel had to be enlarged. John Soane designed the expansion in 1788 (an early work by the architect who went on to great distinction).

The Arundell family no longer live at Wardour Castle but Chapel has remained in continuous use as the local Catholic parish church.

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