Our Lady of Victories, Kensington
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Our Lady of Victories, in Kensington, London, is a Roman Catholic church that was one time the Pro-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Westminster. It stands at 235a Kensington High Street, one of the busiest and most fashionable streets in Central London, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
The resumption of regular Catholic services commenced in 1794 after a break of nearly 250 years, as French aristocrats, priests and nuns fled the French Revolution and found a welcome in Kensington, and the continuity of public Mass has been unbroken in the Parish since then.
Prior to the re-opening of Catholic churches, Mass in this period was said in Catholic embassies or in private houses. In 1866 the Carmelites opened the first Catholic church in the district. The parish church of Our Lady of Victories opened on 2 July 1869, the Feast of the Visitation, and became the Pro-Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Westminster. The Westminster Cathedral (in Victoria) was not built until 1903 so until that time, Kensington’s church was the foremost Catholic church in England.
Many great occasions took place here. At Queen Victoria's 50th Jubilee in 1887 High Mass was celebrated in the presence of Cardinal Manning, sung by the Papal Envoy and attended by all the Hierarchy and leading Catholics in England. The following year, the jubilee of 50 years of priesthood of Pope Leo XIII was the occasion of another glittering assembly in the church, during which the famous "God Bless Our Pope" was sung for the first time in public. This hymn and another, "Sweet Sacrament Divine", were composed by the curate of Our Lady of Victories, Fr Charles Cox. Sweet Sacrament Divine was composed by Fr Francis Stanfield.
On the night of 13 September 1940, four German incendiary bombs landed on the roof of the church and in two and a half hours it was completely devastated and burned to the ground. The Blessed Sacrament was saved and taken by the priests to the nearby Carmelite Church.
Re-building was not permitted until after the end of the war, so the parish was without a church for a length of time. Daily Mass and all services were maintained without a break, first in the local Odeon cinema, and then in the premises of Cavendish Furnishings – known as “St Cavendish’s” by parishioners – in the Convent of the Assumption in Kensington Square (where still many parish outreach and activities take place today), in the hall at the back of the burnt out church and finally in the local Congregational Church, Allan Street, leased to the parish with great goodwill.
A succession of parish priests – Canon Bagshawe, Mgr Kelleher and Fr Drumm – worked to raise funds for a new church. In 1952 the architect Adrian Gilbert Scott was commissioned by Canon Bagshawe to design a new church. On 16 April 1959 the rebuilt church of Our Lady of Victories, was opened as the Parish Church of Kensington by Cardinal Archbishop William Godfrey. The Consecration of the Church and Altar was performed by Bishop Derek Worlock, formerly curate in Kensington and later Archbishop of Liverpool, on the 26 May 1971 in the presence of Cardinal Heenan.
A War Damage Commission grant enabled the creation of a set of stained glass windows by C. F. Blakeman. In the 1980s Fr Walter Drumm moved the large Bavarian crucifix above the sanctuary to the western aisle, where it serves as the twelfth Station of the Cross, and installed above the sanctuary a bronzed sculpture of the Risen Christ by Michael Clark, whose father, Lindsay, had sculpted the statue of Our Lady, help of Christians above the entrance arch on the High Street. Today the sculpture by Clark has been relocated and the empty space is waiting to be filled by a new piece.
As with any building, improvement works are continuous. The current Parish Priest, Mgr Jim Curry and the building committee are currently overseeing upgrading of disabled access to the church and the renovation of the extensive community facilities which exist beneath the church.
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