Catholic churches are among the great architectural treasurers of England yet hardly known and rarely explored. Rye sits on a mound that rises from the surrounding marshland with the Anglican church of St Mary the Virgin at the summit.
It is easy to miss the jewel that is the Catholic church a few minutes walk from St Mary’s in the cobbled Watchbell Street.
St Anthony of Padua Catholic church is so exceptional it is featured in a new book “Fifty Catholic churches to see before you die” by Elena Curti. This beautifully illustrated guide opens up a hidden heritage with its survey of the 50 finest Catholic churches. There are Gothic Revival churches, neo-classical, Byzantine, arts and crafts and modernist as well as a few built prior to the Reformation.
Behind every church in this new book is a compelling story, as there is for St Anthony’s. As well as a beautiful architectural appreciation the details of the restoration of Catholicism in England is explained. St Anthony’s is one of the first churches built in England by the Conventual Franciscans, the Greyfriars, after they re-established themselves in England in the nineteenth century. When they took charge of the Rye parish in 1910, they were, in a sense, returning home. They had had a friary in the neighbouring town of Winchelsea that was suppressed at the Reformation.
A few years ago, the future of St Anthony’s was thrown into doubt when the friars, whose numbers in Britain have plummeted, announced that they could no longer supply a parish priest. Their United States brethren came to the rescue, and ever since they have sent priests to Rye.
The rest of Rye and neighbouring Winchelsea have remnants of numerous religious houses that were here in the Middle Ages, when both towns were important trading ports before the sea receded in the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. How remarkable that in Rye not only is there this hidden architectural gem St Anthony of Padua but it is also staffed by the founding order, the Greyfriars, founded by St Francis of Assisi in 1209. The present incumbent friar is Father Matthew Chadwick who is happy to welcome anyone who would like to visit. Father Matthew is supported by Deacon Rev Simon South of Peasmarsh. The treasures in St Anthony’s are rich indeed, and not to be missed before you die.
Image Credits: Mags Ivatts .