Lincoln's Inn Fields: The Church of SS. Anselm and Cecilia

Pages 81-84

Survey of London: Volume 3, St Giles-in-The-Fields, Pt I: Lincoln's Inn Fields. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1912.

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The erection of the first chapel in the rear of No. 54 has been ascribed, on the strength of the inscription above the arch, to the year 1648. (fn. 1) It has, however, been shown that it is not certain that this date refers to anything more than the naming of the street and that in any case it does not relate to the building of even the main part of No. 53–54. The date of the erection of the chapel must, therefore, be presumed from other considerations. It is, perhaps, possible that some building stood here during the residence of the Earl and Countess of Bath, but, even if that was the case, it certainly could not have been used as a Roman Catholic Chapel at any time before the reign of James II. was well advanced. It is, indeed, from this latter period that its origin as a Roman Catholic place of worship dates. Previously to the reign of James II. the statutes under which adherence to the Roman faith was practically regarded as treason were rigidly enforced. Roman Catholic places of worship were illegal, except those attached to the embassies from Roman Catholic courts, and those priests who contrived, in spite of all difficulties, secretly and in disguise, to minister to the spiritual wants of their congregations, did so at the peril of their lives. No sooner, however, was James firmly seated on his throne than the aspect of affairs underwent a striking change, the laws were treated as a dead letter, and the signs of the proscribed religion everywhere obtruded themselves on the public notice. A few monasteries were founded, one being at No. 53–4, Lincoln's Inn Fields. (fn. 2) The latter owed its existence to Father John Cross, Provincial of the Franciscans, who in 1687 "obtained a ten years' lease of premises near the arches in Lincoln's Inn Fields, previously occupied by the Countess of Bath, and there established a community of ten members." (fn. 3) The chapel was opened on 2nd February, 1688. (fn. 4)

In taking a ten years' lease of the house, Father Cross showed himself unduly optimistic, for within as many months he and the members of his community were fugitives. On the intelligence reaching London that the Prince of Orange had landed, the mob made a desperate effort to destroy the monasteries. For a day and a night the residence of the Franciscans in Lincoln's Inn Fields was besieged, but a guard of soldiers sent by the king made a temporary diversion. James then ordered Father Cross to retire, and on 16th November, 1688, the Franciscans withdrew. (fn. 5) A month afterwards the chapel suffered the first of its several misfortunes. On the night of 11th December, 1688, after the flight of James, the mob of London poured down on the Roman Catholic places of worship and the embassies of the Roman Catholic powers. The chapel in Lincoln's Inn Fields was gutted, and all the wainscot, pictures, books, etc., were pulled down and burnt in Lincoln's Inn Fields. (fn. 6) The scene is depicted on the sketch reproduced in Plate 7.

It appears from the Westminster sewer rate-book for the year 1700 in the Council's possession that at that date No. 53–4 was in the occupation of "Don Lewis Da Cunha," the Portuguese ambassador. It would, therefore, seem that after the disaster of December, 1688, the Portuguese Embassy (fn. 7) removed to the house, and, the chapel being thus attached to the embassy, it became for the first time possible for the Roman Catholic service to be performed there without an infraction of the laws of the realm. From the list of residents at No. 53–4 given on p. 79 it will be seen that the house continued to be the headquarters of the Portuguese Embassy until some time subsequent to 1708. In 1715 the building is described as having been empty for some years, but some time before 1723 it passed into the occupation of the Sardinian Embassy, and from that circumstance it obtained the name of The Sardinian Chapel, by which it has ever since been generally known.

On 30th November, 1759, the chapel was burnt to the ground, and the fire communicated itself to the house of the Sardinian ambassador, Count Viri, who, being indisposed, was carried to Newcastle House, whither the valuable part of his furniture was also removed. The fire also destroyed two houses adjoining. (fn. 8)

Shortly afterwards a new building was erected, at the expense of the king of Sardinia, from a plan by Signor Jean Baptist Jaque, the secretary of Count Viri. (fn. 9) This in its turn soon encountered misfortune. On 2nd June, 1780, during the Gordon riots, it was attacked by the mob and materially damaged. (fn. 10)

Heckethorn says (fn. 11) that the chapel was after this rebuilt, and was enlarged westwards by additional ground upon which formerly stood the ambassador's stables. This statement is probably inaccurate. There is no evidence that the chapel was so materially damaged on that occasion as to necessitate rebuilding, and if, as stated, the enlargement did take place, it must have been effected during the rebuilding after the fire of 1759, which Heckethorn does not mention, as the architectural evidence is that the whole structure was, before its final demolition, of one period and design.

In 1799 the chapel, together with No. 53–4, passed out of the hands of the Sardinian Embassy, in accordance with the terms of an agreement between the ambassador (M. le Comte de Front) and the chaplains and Vicar Apostolic. (fn. 12) It continued, however, to be under the patronage and protection of the king of Sardinia until 1858.

In 1853 the name of the chapel was changed to "St. Anselm's, Duke Street," which in 1861 was further altered to "the Church of St. Anselm and St. Cecilia." (fn. 13)

The chapel was demolished in 1909, a new building having first been erected in Kingsway.

Plate 69 shows the interior, looking east, of the chapel in 1808, and is taken from an acquatint after Pugin and Rowlandson, published in Ackermann's Microcosm of London, and Plate 70 is a photograph of the same view in 1904, the point of observation being, however, from the lower western gallery. The comparison is interesting evidence of Pugin's accuracy.

The interior gave the impression of Italian architectural influence. The chapel was separated into two main parts by a semi-circular chancel arch resting upon wood Ionic columns.

The chancel was the full width of the chapel and square on plan. Resting upon the walls, and partly supported by pendentives, was an octagonal dome surmounted by a lantern.

The nave had a panelled plaster ceiling also the full width of the chapel. The central panels were flat and the side panels were quadrants springing from a main cornice.

Side aisles were formed by wooden columns of the Doric order, which supported two tiers of galleries carried across the western end of the nave. The lower gallery continued along the sides of the chancel, and at its north-eastern extremity was situated the ambassador's pew. In the upper gallery at the west end was a large organ.

In the Council's collection are:—

Exterior view (1904) of north side looking eastward, showing entrance door to the chapel (photograph).
* Interior view (1808) looking east (photograph of aquatint).
* Interior view (1904) looking east (photograph).
Interior view (1904) looking west (photograph).
South aisle of nave (photograph).
South side of nave showing pulpit (photograph).
Southern springing of the chancel arch (photograph).
Dome of chancel (photograph).
Sardinian ambassador's pew in north gallery (photograph).
The High Altar and picture representing the descent from the Cross, with ornamental carved wood framing (photograph). (fn. 14)
The monstrance (photograph).
Stone relic from the abbey of Glastonbury (photograph).
Parchment document (about 1700) describing the Glastonbury stone (photograph).


  • 1. Heckethorn's Lincoln's Inn Fields, p. 168.
  • 2. "The house in Lincolns Inn Fields that was lately the countesse of Bathe's is converted to a Franciscan monastery." (Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs, I., p. 427, under date Jan. 5–12, 1688.)
  • 3. Gillow's Biographical Dictionary of the English Catholics (s.v. Cross, J.).
  • 4. "Feb. the 2nd the Dominicans (sic) open'd their chappel in Great Lincolns Inn Feilds." (Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs, I., p. 430.)
  • 5. Harting's History of the Sardinian Chapel, p. 10. "The Franciscan friars of Lincoln's Inn Fields are ordered to break up their fraternity to go beyond sea, and the priests and Jesuits begin here to go in women's apparel." (Historical MSS. Commission, 12th Report, App. VII., p. 220, under date 20th November, 1688.)
  • 6. Luttrell's Brief Relation of State Affairs, I., p. 486; Historical MSS. Commission, Earl of Dartmouth's MSS., Vol. XI., Part V., p. 229.
  • 7. From some time before 1665 until 1688 the south wing of Weld House had been occupied by the Portuguese Embassy. (Parton's St. Giles-in-the-Fields, p. 248.)
  • 8. Annual Register, II., p. 128.
  • 9. R. Ackermann's Microcosm of London, I., p. 115.
  • 10. Mrs. Kenyon, who was at the time resident at No. 18, Lincoln's Inn Fields, states: "They have taken all the images and everything within the chappel that they could find, and pulled all to pieces and burnt before the door; broke the windows and burnt the frames and doors of the chappel." (Historical MSS. Commission, Kenyon MSS., Report XIV., App. 4, p. 509.)
  • 11. Lincoln's Inn Fields, p. 169.
  • 12. A copy of the agreement is given in Harting's History of the Sardinian Chapel, pp. 20–22.
  • 13. Ibid., pp. 101–2.
  • 14. The original painting, the gift of Chevalier Cassali, was executed by Spagnoletto, and valued at £2,500. (Harting's History of the Sardinian Chapel, p. 61.) It was either destroyed, or greatly damaged, during the Gordon Riots in 1780, and the present picture is, according to Heckethorn, the work of West and worth £700. Ackermann, however, assigns it to John Marcus Rigaud, R.A.