TITLE: THE ORATORY
By Gabrielle Morgan
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At last, after years of yearning to see England, I had arrived in London. My great grandparents emigrated to Australia in the l850’s and always called England home. It was in my blood, I felt a strong connection. My spirit was roused as I investigated the marvels of that great city.
I had five days in London, so I immediately set out on foot from Earl’s Court towards Kensington, and Harrods Department Store. A gleaming Rolls Royce car graced Harrod's window. It set a tone of opulence close to the Royal Patronage emblem on the side of the building. I was excited to see the interior of such a renowned and exclusive haven for the rich.
Inside, I wasn’t disappointed. I roamed around various departments tempted by the outstanding selection of goods displayed for the more wealthier than I. The décor was no doubt especially created to captivate the emotions and lure to buy. Not to be outdone by the status of my surrounds I ordered coffee from the gourmet food hall and then set out again to walk down the Brompton Road.
It was the middle of the afternoon and I was tired but determined to keep going and not miss any aspect of London. My attention was taken by an impressive large Italianate style church building complete with columns and high dome at the rear. A sign informed me it was the London Oratory, Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, built in 1880 – 1884.
I went into the church and was immediately aware of a tangible reverence, a stillness only interrupted by the people who quietly walked through, all intent on seeking prayerful solace.
A Mass was in progress in front of the High Altar. I joined the congregation and from my seat in the pew marvelled at all I could see. The side areas of the church had smaller altars dedicated to the Saints of the Church. The simplest was the Calvary Altar where above a single prayer table hung a superbly carved wooden crucifix.
After the Mass I walked around the church stopping at each Altar and found my mind, heart and soul became enriched by the beauty and significance of all I saw. St. Wilfred Chapel contained the altar of the English martyrs and above the altar the only known religious painting by Rex Whistler. The Lady Chapel which originally stood in the Dominican Church in Brescia, Italy was now covered with fresh English flowers. Wood panels by Flemish painter Frans Floris, painted in 1517- 70, decorated St. Patrick’s Chapel and beneath the Altar of St. Philip, in a reliquary, lay the wax effigy of St. Philip of Neri himself dressed in his Eucharistic Vestments.
I went on to ponder over the wonder of the Chapels of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Joseph’s, The Sacred Heart, St. Sebastian’s and the Seven Dolours Chapel with its black and white study of Our Lady of Sorrows, all powerfully moving.
By the time I left the Oratory I was overwhelmed with the impact the visit had made upon me and before I left London I was to be drawn back to experience these emotions three more times.
I wondered at myself devoting so much of my valuable time revisiting the same place when I could have explored so much more. Somehow the atmosphere in that Church answered all my needs. I was lifted out of the secular into the divine. Harrods with its enticing array of goods was merely a mirage compared to the wealth of inspiration I found at the Oratory.
I discovered that it is the second largest Catholic Church in London and is home to the priests of “The Congregation of The Oratory of St. Philip Neri,” or as they are often referred to as, the “Oratarians.”
The Church is dedicated to the memory of St. Philip Neri, a zealous priest, ordained in Rome in 1551. He was convinced that music and song had the power to uplift the spirit to reach the divine. So he gathered together a small group of lay men for worship, and this would include music and song. The Italians used the word ‘Oratory” to describe these gatherings. The numbers grew to such an extent that Pope Gregory XIII gave him and his followers the Church of Santa Maria in Vallicella which later became Chiesa Nuova. Then Philip formed “The Congregation of the Oratory” with a group of priests and brothers. The Oratory became one of Rome’s great centres for sacred music. Some of the greatest musicians of the time gained inspiration and musical opportunities from the Roman Oratory. And to this day the “Oratarians” continue the tradition of St. Philip of Neri with serious devotion to worship and song.
There could be nothing finer than hearing Mozart and Palestrina echo through your heart within the walls of the London Oratory. Glory be to God.
Copyright: Gabrielle Morgan
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