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Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton, Wirral,
Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul and Philomena, New Brighton,
In October 2011, administration of the church was assumed
by the Institute
of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a Society
of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right whose mother house
is in Italy. The Institute operates in more than 50 places
in 12 countries and is dedicated, among other things, to the
preservation of the traditional Latin liturgy. The church
had been closed by the Diocese of Shrewsbury in 2008 as being
too large and costly to maintain. The day chapel was reopened
in 2011, an event duly
reported on by your Mystery Worshipper.
A dominant Catholic landmark
standing high on the skyline overlooking Liverpool Bay. Vast.
It is affectionately called the Dome of Home because the massive
copper domed central tower is one of the first things seafarers
see when they sail back to Liverpool. The painstakingly restored
interior is a feast for the eyes in blue Tuscan marble, Art
Deco gold, Carrara marble, tiled marble floor, and Art Nouveau
carvings. The priests of the Institute have worked tirelessly
since their arrival to clear acres of junk and rubbish and
all manner of detritus that had been dumped in the church.
They have polished and scrubbed, swept and tidied almost to
the point of utter exhaustion.
This church has always played a prominent part in the community.
The Institute have said that the Shrine will be devoted to
exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and will also serve as
a centre for the Latin mass.
This is where Victorian villas rub shoulders with seaside
terraced housing, pleasant parks and recreational spaces.
Attractions include the Lighthouse and Fort Perch Rock (a
defence battery from the time of the Napoleonic war), hotels,
guest houses, the Floral Pavilion theatre and conference venue,
a shopping centre, an amusements arcade and boating lake,
cafés, restaurants and bars. There are good rail links to
Mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rt Revd Mark Davies,
Bishop of Shrewsbury, who preached and bestowed the pontifical
blessing of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. He was attended
by his chaplain. The Most Revd Msgr Gilles Wach, founder and
Superior of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest,
was the celebrant. Assisting were the Revd Canon William Hudson,
Pro Provincial of the Institute for England, and the Revd
Canon Olivier Meney, Rector of the Shrine. Also in the altar
party were a crucifer, two acolytes, a boat boy, and the master
The date & time:
Saturday, 24 March 2012, 10.30am.
What was the name of
The Establishment of the Shrine Church of Saints Peter, Paul
and Philomena, with Celebration of Solemn High Mass in the
How full was the building?
Bursting at the seams, over 1000 people!
Did anyone welcome you
We were warmly welcomed by the new rector, Canon Meney, at
the open west door. There were also various other meeters
Was your pew comfortable?
Comfortable pew, plenty of leg room; drop-down padded kneeler.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Electric! Anticipated buzz filled the building. A soprano
soloist was tuning up in the organ gallery.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Welcome! Welcome to the Shrine Church of New Brighton."
As the procession entered, the bishop, wearing his gold mitre
and carrting his crosier, and resplendent in white and gold
cope with gold and silver emboidered orphreys, was led to
the faldstool beneath a canopy of gold brocade and silver
and gold fringing with matching side drapes.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
Commemorative souvenir booklet of the opening of the Shrine,
but no service sheet.
What musical instruments
Pipe organ played by one of the seminarians of the Institute.
A choir sang from the gallery; they were joined by several
Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ, Sovereign Priest,
a French community of non-cloistered contemplative nuns on
their first visit to England, who sang from a side chapel.
The nuns wore long blue habits blue is part of the
community's colour scheme, and the pompoms on the clergy's
birettas were also blue. Three seminarians answered the priest's
versicles in perfect Gregorian chant. I didn't recognise the
mass setting, but it was traditional Latin Gregorian chant.
Did anything distract
I was very interested to see the inside of this iconic building
and to know how it had fared during its three and a half years
of closure. It looked wonderful, magnificent in spite of needing
much restoration. Damp patches were evident where rain has
penetrated, and the plaster work is a bit dodgy in parts.
The interior is a vast cavern and the lantern of the dome
gives a spacious lightness to the whole building. One’s eye
is drawn to the wonderful diverse marble used throughout;
so much to distract and delight. The high altar is a masterpiece
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Sombre, marvellous Latin liturgy executed with great pomp
and ceremony. All of the chant was note-perfect at all times.
Whenever the celebrant removed his biretta and handed it to
the master of ceremonies, the MC kissed both the celebrant's
hand and the biretta. All of the choreography was smooth and
sure; everyone knew their moves and had obviously been practising.
There was plenty of to-ing and
fro-ing in front of the altar and plenty of backwardsing and
forwardsing and moving stuff to and fro on the altar. It was
all executed with great precision and dignity. It was a joy
to behold. Nobody bumped into anyone else! The soprano soloist
who had been tuning up before mass sang Cesar Franck’s "Panis
Angelicus" during the communion. We received communion
kneeling at the altar rail; only the celebrant distributed
communion, with an acolyte holding a paten under the chin
of each communicant.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
9 Bishop Davies spoke with great warmth from the heart.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The setting up of the Shrine was a new venture of faith, a
place of peace and prayer. It’s not the architecture that
makes it sacred, but the love of Christ. Churches have become
locked and closed, but this foundation is open to everyone.
It is a home, with or without a dome! Without the Institute,
this church could not be open today. Homecoming seafarers
have seen this place as a beacon of hope, a safe haven. Do
you see this as a new church or an old building? It is both:
Catholics cannot separate the two. As we open the doors of
this building, let us open our hearts and turn always to the
example of Christ, who gave himself in the Most Holy Sacrament
of the altar.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The music, the flowers, the liturgy, the vestments, the lace
cottas, incense, lady soloist – all of it bliss!
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
I am not very good in a crowd and I did feel hemmed in and
a bit panicky at times.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Bishop Davies, standing on top of the sanctuary steps, imparted
the pontifical blessing of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
He then paid a brief visit to the Lady altar, which was ablaze
with candles and arrayed with yellow, white and lilac carnations,
lilies and freesias. He paused momentarily in prayer before
recessing slowly down the nave. The organ blew a loud fanfare
before launching into Widor's "Toccata" (from his
5th Organ Symphony). There was a ripple of applause as the
bishop blessed the people on the way.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
We were all invited, on the programme and by the MC, to the
Floral Pavilion for refreshments, social and friendship. The
coffee was rather weak so I added extra myself. The food was
sandwiches, cakes, hot and cold beverages. A bar was available
if one so desired. There were stalls selling books and piety
goods, vestments, lace mantillas, Latin Mass Society leaflets,
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
9 This was a special occasion, but the pomp and splendour
combined with the lovingly restored interior made for a memorable
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
Without a doubt.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
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