Recently I had the good fortune to visit the church of Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane, in the heart of London. The church is between the Strand and the Covent Garden piazza, and I suppose a lot of people might miss it, which is a pity.
Back in the day, not so very long ago, when the Catholic faith was more or less illegal in this country, Mass was only openly said in embassy chapels, and Covent Garden was the site of the Portuguese Chapel, as it was called. Here people could freely go to Mass (the same situation pertains today in Saudi Arabia, where the only Catholic church in the country is situated inside the Italian Embassy.) Indeed, the Portuguese Chapel became quite a fashionable place, and even Protestants went to hear its choir. It was here that “the Portuguese hymn” first became popular, the Christmas carol that we know nowadays as Adeste, Fideles, or Come all ye Faithful. Or so the story goes, for the facts are a little obscure. The parish of Maiden Lane has an excellent website, which makes no mention of this at all, so I may be completely mistaken.
The present structure is currently undergoing restoration, which means that layers of paint are being scraped off to reveal the handsome Victorian brickwork below. This is still a work in progress, but the results are already very promising.
But what struck me most of all is the recently refurbished and redecorated Lady Chapel, which provides London with a wondrous new space for worship. Enthroned above the altar is Our Lady of Walsingham, the Virgin of these shores, the one to whom England belongs as of right. Above the altar is the inscription: Dos tua Virgo pia haec est, quaere leges O Maria, meaning “This is your dowry, O faithful Virgin, therefore, rule over it, O Mary.”
The creation of such a fine chapel, which must have involved considerable effort and resources, reminds us that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is such a central part of Catholicism, and particularly of English Catholicism. And if England is the dowry of Mary, then we ought all to behave as her subjects. What a long way we have to go! The inscription is a reminder of the sentiments contained in the prayer for England used at Benediction, which is attributed to Cardinal Wiseman:
O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy Dowry and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.
I urge all readers to go and visit this chapel, and see if it inspires you as much as it did me.