Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Birmingham Oratory Church, England

St. Philip Neri founded the Oratory in Rome during the 1550s. He gathered a small group who met informally to pray, discuss, and read spiritual works. Neri was able to blend religion and recreation. He also had a great sense of humor, which drew followers and admirers for centuries afterwards.

One such admirer was John Henry Newman, a leading figure of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement was a revival of spiritual life in the Anglican Church. Newman's study of the Church Fathers made him conclude that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church of Jesus Christ. He struggled to convert, eventually going to Rome where he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1847. He discovered the Oratorians in Rome and decided to bring the Oratory to England. He founded the first English Oratorian church in Birmingham in 1848; a year later, he opened another in London.

The Oratory in Birmingham moved from location to location several times, settling on Hagley Road. The current church was built from 1903 to 1920, the year it was solemnly consecrated. The church is rather unassuming as seen from the street but is splendid inside.

View from the parking lot

The church's main entrance

The cloister by the main entrance

The nave is ornate with a great ceiling featuring various coats of arms.


Nave ceiling

The baptismal font dates from 1912 and has a marble base with a bronze canopy topped by a figure of John the Baptist.

Baptismal font

The Holy Souls altar commemorates those who died in World War I. The mosaic above depicts Our Lady of Sorrows at the moment of Christ's entombment.

Mosaic and cross of the Holy Souls Altar

Another side altar is dedicated to St. Athanasius, a favorite of Newman's. The coffin under the altar contains the body of St. Valentine, given to Newman by Pope Pius IX in 1847.

St. Athanasius Altar

Our Lady's altar has a fantastic statue of the Madonna and Child, copied from Notre Dame des Victories in Paris.

Our Lady's Altar

Our Lady's statue

The St. Anne's Altar depicts the presentation of Mary in the Temple as a child. The altarpiece shows Mary and her mother Anne and was painted by Benedictine nuns.

St. Anne's Altar

The sanctuary has a fantastic main altar. The tabernacle is designed in imitation of the one in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Peter's in Rome. The mosaic above the altar shows the Coronation of Our Lady. She is surrounded by Newman's patron saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist.

Main altar

Closer view of the altar

Mosaic and baldacchino

The dome above the main altar is also impressive, showing the four major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel).


Other interesting decoration include a nun over one of the exits and a ceramic panel outside depicting St. Philip Neri and the Seven Children (representing his love for education young people; he loved animals too, so they are represented on the sides and top).

Exit lintel

Close up of the nun

Philip Neri and the Seven Children

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