Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street
|Farm Street Church|
|Church of the Immaculate Conception,
Entrance to the church on Farm Street
|OS grid reference|
|Founder(s)||Fr Randal Lythgoe SJ|
|Dedication||Immaculate Conception of Mary|
|Consecrated||31 July 1849|
|Functional status||Parish Church|
|Heritage designation||Grade II*|
|Designated||24 February 1958|
|Architect(s)||Joseph John Scoles|
|Archbishop||Most Rev. Vincent Nichols|
|Priest(s)||Fr Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ|
|Director of music||David Graham|
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, also known as Farm Street Church, is a Roman Catholic parish church run by the Society of Jesus in Mayfair, central London. Its main entrance is in Farm Street, though it can also be accessed from the adjacent Mount Street Gardens. Sir Simon Jenkins, in his book England's Thousand Best Churches, describes the church as "Gothic Revival at its most sumptuous".
In the 1840s, when the Jesuits first began looking for a location for their London church, they found the site in a quiet back street. They found it in what was in fact the mews in a back street. The name 'Farm Street' derives from 'Hay Hill Farm' which, in the eighteenth century, extended from Hill Street eastward beyond Berkeley Square. In 1843 Pope Gregory XVI received a petition from English Catholics for permission to erect a Jesuit Church in London and plans were accepted.
The original intention of the Superior of the English Jesuits, Fr Randal Lythgoe, was for the church to have a capacity for 900 people. When this was found too expensive the church was built for a capacity of 475. The cost was £5,800 which came from multiple private benefactors.
In 1844 the foundation stone was laid by Fr Lythgoe. Because of the limited size of the plot, the church was orientated north-south. The architect was Joseph John Scoles, who also designed the Church of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool, St Ignatius Church in Preston, and was father of Ignatius Scoles SJ, another architect, who designed St Wilfrid's Church also in Preston. Five years later on 31 July 1849, the feast of the Jesuit founder St Ignatius, the church was officially opened.
In his 1999 book England's Thousand Best Churches, Sir Simon Jenkins awards the church two stars but says "Not an inch of wall surface is without decoration, and this in the austere 1840s, not the colourful late-Victorian era. The right aisle carries large panels portraying the Stations of the Cross. The left aisle has side chapels and confessionals, ingeniously carved within the piers. In the west window above the gallery is excellent modern glass by Evie Hone of 1953, with the richness of colour of a Burne-Jones."
In the nineteenth century, the choir consisted only of men and boys drawn from the local Roman Catholic schools. After the First World War, the choir came under the direction of Fr John Driscoll SJ, who was later succeeded by Fernand Laloux, and the organist was Guy Weitz, a Belgian who had been a pupil of Charles-Marie Widor and Alexandre Guilmant. One of Weitz's most notable students was Nicholas Danby (1935–1997) who succeeded him as the church organist in 1967. Danby was also a tutor and taught John Keys, Paul Hale, and Robert Costin. His main achievement at Farm Street was re-establishing the choir in the early 1970s, following a period of change in the late 1960s, as a fully professional ensemble.
Following Nicholas Danby's death in 1997, two of his students, Martyn Parry and David Graham, were appointed Joint Directors of Music. Martyn Parry was formerly Director of Music at the Sacred Heart Church in Wimbledon. David Graham had studied music with Nicholas Danby at the Royal College of Music. In December 2004 and following the death of Martyn Parry earlier that year, the music was reorganised and Duncan Aspden was appointed Associate Director of Music, to assist David Graham in directing the professional choir and playing the organ.
During the 1990s a number of recordings were made of the music at the Farm Street church. In 2000 a CD of organ music, recorded by David Graham and including the music of Guy Weitz, was recorded on the church organ in Farm Street.
In the twenty-first century, the repertoire is varied and ranges from sixteenth century polyphony, the Viennese classical composers, nineteenth century romantics as well as twentieth century and contemporary music. Gregorian chant still features and plays an important role in the regular worship of the church.
Since 1966 the church has been a parish in the centre of Mayfair. The Jesuit community has always consisted of priests and brothers attached specifically to the church, working in other pastoral sectors or in retirement.
The building next to the church hosts various parish events and is a home to the offices of the British Province of Jesuits, Jesuit Media Initiatives, and the community house of the Jesuits who work in the parish or teach and study at Heythrop College; it also houses the Mount Street Jesuit Centre.
In March 2013 the church opened its doors to the LGBT community when masses throughout Soho in central London, aimed specifically at LGBT people, came to an end. The church had refused a request for a six-month retreat from writer Oscar Wilde almost 116 years previously.
Mount Street Centre
The centre provides opportunities in central London for adult Christian formation through prayer, worship, theological education and social justice.
Also present within the centre is London Jesuit Volunteers. It is a programme that operates out of the centre that places busy adults of any age in direct service or in advocacy roles for a few hours a week. Volunteers work as advocates, mentors and befrienders alongside people in prisons, hospitals, homeless shelters and sleeping rough, in communities of people with learning disabilities, and with outreach agencies for refugees, asylum seekers, forced migrants, and other marginalised people.
Also within the Mount Street Jesuit Centre is Jesuit Media Initiatives. It runs Pray as you go, an online enterprise that offers daily prayer and reflections to its subscribers and Thinking Faith the online journal of the Society of Jesus in Britain.
Thinking Faith was launched on 18 January 2008. The journal is free to access and subscribe to and covers a set of subjects such as politics, theology, philosophy, spirituality, poetry and culture, contributing to debates and issues from a British (and European) perspective. Also included are regular book reviews and film reviews. Unlike a printed publication, it doesn't have a weekly or monthly edition but a 'rolling' format. Articles may be added at any time, with subscribers notified online.
Pray as you go is daily audio prayer using scripture, questions for reflection, music, and other prayer content such as the Stations of the Cross, that can be downloaded from the website or by subscribing to a podcast. An open, public trial began on Ash Wednesday of 2006 as a way of "taking something up" rather than giving something up for Lent, and then extended into the Easter season of that year. After more than 250,000 prayer sessions were downloaded by people all over the world, it was decided to continue Pray as you go indefinitely. By March 2008, over five million prayer sessions had been downloaded and it had been launched in 5 other languages.
St. Francis Xavier Chapel
- British Listed Buildings Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Parishes, Archdiocese of Westminster Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Farm Street, Jesuits in Britain Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Jenkins, Simon (1999). England's Thousand Best Churches. London: Penguin Books. pp. 480–481. ISBN 978-0-14-103930-5.
- 160 Years of Farm Street, Thinking Faith Retrieved 23 January 2013
- History, Farm Street site Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Music, Farm Street Site Retrieved 22 January 2013
- About Us, Farm Street church diocesan site Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Fiona Keating (3 March 2013). "London Church that Rejected Oscar Wilde Opens its Doors to Gay Catholics". Ibtimes.co.uk. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
- About, Mount Street Jesuit Centre site Retrieved 22 January 2013
- Jesuit Media Initiatives Retrieved 22 January 2013
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