Unworthy Characters and Spiritual Destitution: Kentish Town in 1846

It was quite by accident that I stumbled upon an ebook with the rather catchy title ‘The Life and Times of the Roman Patrician Alexis: To Which Is Annexed, an Account of the Mission Founded in Kentish Town’.

Click on the book cover to go to Google’s ebook store where you can read it for free

Catholicism is the theme of this book, or more precisely the first Catholic Church in Kentish Town. Started by a man named Hardinge Ivers.

Now, this is certainly not a book review. To review a book, you need to read the whole thing, and I did not plan to plough through The Life and Times of the Roman Patrician Alexis, although I’m sure his life and times were just lovely / filled with grueling pain and hardship, but ultimately redemption (delete as appropriate).

I was just interested in the Kentish Town bit, which, to me, was the juicy bit. Also, I’m meant to currently be revising Media Law for an NCTJ exam in two days time and so do not have time for such mindless frivolity.

This is slightly closer in kin to The Guardian’s Digested Reads, except less witty. And not as well written. Or researched.

“He determined he would build on that spot so long desecrated by vice and polluted by infamous transactions, a great Catholic place of worship.”

Hardinge Ivers was a pious Englishman who made a name for himself in Lisbon, Portugal, in the Summer of 1833, rescuing Jesuits and “other ecclesiastics from most unmerited persecution.” The Jesuit convent had been invaded, and they were attacked, but the hero of our story helped the Jesuits to slip away on board ships for Liverpool or for Rome, which is where he was headed.

For doing so, he received the thanks of Pope Gregory XVI and entered the Catholic priesthood in Rome, where he spent the next 13 years dedicating himself to all manner of things Godly. He gave sermons that were well received in English, Latin and Italian, for he had “half a dozen native languages in his mouth.”

However, during this distinguished time in Rome, he received a letter. Hardinge’s family history was in Kentish Town, a place he had not been back to for years. And this letter told him that: “A portion of the English Property which he possessed, and which was situated in his birth place, Kentish Town, was falling into dilapidation and perishing under the malversations of unworthy characters.”

And so in 1846 he set sail for England, and for Kentish Town where: “After he had rescued his property by incredible exertions and great legal skill, he had time to look around him and observe the horrible state of spiritual destitution into which Kentish Town was plunged.

“He determined he would build on that spot so long desecrated by vice and polluted by infamous transactions a great Catholic place of worship.”

However, not everyone shared his passion for the old Catholicism:  “Late one evening, as he was about to retire to bed, worn out alike with the labours of the day and a dangerous complaint well known to his persecutors, he was arrested and hurried off to pass the night with felons.”

Undeterred after a night in the cells, he secured a loan from a sympathetic Bishop Griffiths and another loan from the Jesuits, with which he established the Church of St Alexis in July 1847.

At this point the book trails off into a collection of letters to and from some of the local rags, on subjects such as Catholics invading Kentish Town, and a bit of musing on what Catholicism actually means. Which as Father Ted points out, is a lost cause:

But the story is continued, very helpfully, by what The Church of St Alexis was to evolve into – The Church of Our Lady Help of Christians. And after a couple of location changes over the past 150 years, the current church sits on Lady Margaret Road.

Mother Theresa visited in 1993, and today the Church looks like this:

Our Lady Help of Christians, Kentish Town
Our Lady Help of Christians,
Kentish Town

So, there you have it. A potted, and not remotely comprehensive history of Catholicism in Kentish Town, given by someone whose knowledge of religious history is sparse to say the very least. But, it’s amazing what feats can be accomplished when exam revision awaits…

* I take no responsibility for any historical inaccuracy or accidental blasphemy.

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