The Shard, London’s newest and tallest tower, owned by the State of Qatar, soars over London Bridge and the old pubs and High Street of The Borough. This is a corner of London with history at every turn: the Saxons battled the Vikings on the bridge over a thousand years ago, the great church that stands by the river began life as a Saxon convent in the 10th century, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre (recently reconstructed) is nearby, as is the famous Guy’s Hospital. This was once marshland, as the name of the Marshalsea Road – and the old prison familiar to Charles Dickens – gives testimony.
In the 1980s, the old Palace of the Bishops of Winchester was excavated and the tracery of its fine rose window is now admired as tourists wander along the old lane that leads to the Clink Prison – now a museum – and to the glittering modern waterside restaurants with their views of St Paul’s and of the tall cranes that show evidence of more towering office blocks being built in the city.
Among the apparently least important of all buildings, the Church of the Most Precious Blood is tucked into O’Meara Street, its entrance only a few feet away from the railway viaduct. But there’s some history being written here, too, in this 19th-century building with its long lists of names on its War memorials, and its newly-dedicated shrine to Blessed John Henry Newman. This is one of just two churches in London in the care of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the other being the Church of the Assumption in Warwick Street, near Piccadilly Circus
Benedict XVI created the Ordinariate in response to the request of Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Some 80 clergy, and about a thousand lay people responded to his invitation in Anglicanorum Coetibus “ to groups of Anglicans”, and there are now various groups of Ordinariate Catholics around Britain. Father Christopher Pearson, formerly the vicar of the Anglican church of St Agnes in Kennington, is now the Rector of Precious Blood Church, with Father Scott Anderson as his assistant. Precious Blood Church was formerly in the care of the Salvatoreans, but they were due to leave and the future of the parish seemed uncertain. There was much speculation about what might happen, until the formal announcement that Archbishop Peter Smith was to give the church into Ordinariate care
The former Anglicans from St Agnes church brought with them to Precious Blood a sense of vigour, hope, and mission. A new heating system was installed, and the building is now warm and welcoming. A Sunday School was started, gathering a number of children aged 5-11 every week. The revival of processions, and special traditions like the Blessing of Chalk and dedication of homes for Epiphany, have proved immensely popular. Long-time parishioners comment, however, that none of this seems very new: “it’s as if it was always like this.” There is a sense of renewal and a parish thriving with a sense of its history and a confidence in its future.
Blessed John Henry Newman is patron of the Ordinariate, hence his new shrine in the church – but the old statues are still in place, including St Therese and St Patrick. A statue discovered in a corner of the choir loft, evidently forgotten for many years, turned out, extraordinarily, to be of St Agnes. She has now been given a clean-up and stands on a plinth of her own: her spiritual children from St Agnes church are glad to have her there.
Evangelising modern London takes much prayer. Of the eight million people living in the city and its suburbs, only a tiny number go to church. The fastest-growing religion is Islam. Precious Blood parish has a lot of missionary work to do.