There are many architectural hidden gems in Rye, one of the best being St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Watchbell Street. My favourite view of St Anthony’s is the one that is only possible to see when approaching from the west, the distinct Spanish-Romanesque campanile and dome nestling surprisingly well among the neighbouring Tudor and Jacobean tiled roofs of Watchbell Street. The Italianate lines of this lovely little church suggest a contented distinction from its much larger ancient neighbour the Church of St Mary the Virgin. Being a very small church, with matching congregation, a practical feature of parish life is that there is nowhere for the parishioners to meet and talk to each other when attending Holy Mass. The adjoining house, the Friary, where the parish priest Father Matthew lives, is similarly small and crowded especially when there are visiting friars resident, as there are during the summer.
Since arriving in Rye from the USA almost three years ago, Father Matthew has instigated a wide range of refurbishments and redecorations to the the interior of the church, including renovating the floor and replastering the main dome above the sanctuary altar and repairs to the roof and two side altars. The interior is much improved but ongoing repairs and maintenance remain a work in progress as resources and finances allow.
It may come as a surprise to many to know that St Anthony’s also has a beautiful garden, with views towards Camber Castle and the Rye Nature Reserve. There is access from the pavement down the side of the church. The garden is terraced, in common with its neighbours, sloping steeply towards the edge of the cliff.
Franciscan Friars are known for their hospitality and so wish to maximise any opportunity of space for socialising and offering refreshments for parishioners to enjoy after Mass, and for parish celebrations as recently when seven children received First Holy Communion.
The garden has also enjoyed a recent redesign with Indian sandstone slabs being laid to replace the scruffy lawns. Last weekend a working party of volunteers attacked the weeds and overgrown shrubs to reveal a very pretty usable space with astonishing views. In due course when the weather is fine it will be possible to hold simple receptions in the garden for parishioners after Mass, and perhaps invite others who wish to admire the view from a unique perspective.
The church is open generally from 8:30am until 5pm and in the spring and summer, when the weather is nice, until 7pm.
Photos: Mags Ivatts