THE full glory of St. Etheldreda's, Ely Place, the only church in London surviving from the reign of Edward 1 (except for the Abbey) is open again to Catholic worshippers.
On Wednesday morning the restored upper church, with the blackout which has filled its windows for years replaced by beautiful modern glass and the worm-eaten timbers all gone, was packed for the great reopening ceremony.
The story of St. Etheldreda's is one of the most extraordinary in the country. Its survival, as the only preReformation episcopal chapel in London, and its return to the faith of those who built its unique Gothic, read like a chapter of accidents. though to Catholics they are clearly a sign of a special providence.
Remaining to this day unique not only in its ecclesiastical history but also civically as part of the still privileged and enclosed Liberty of Ely Place (the original of the film Passport to Pimlico), the church was part of the town house of the powerful and wealthy Bishops of Ely. Twentyone Bishops used it.
Under Elizabeth, Bishop Cox was forced to lease most of the property to the royal favourite, Christopher Hatton, who in fact became full owner after Cox's death.
After various underground Catholic connections, Ely House was, in 1620, put at the disposal of the Count of Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, whose Catholic chi-el, enjoying extra-territorial rights, enabled many penal times Catholics to hear Mass.
After the Restoration the property, now mangled and much changed. came back into the hands of its real owners. the Bishops of Ely. who, however, found it more economic to rid themselves of it. It then passed to a number of owners, secular and religious, until in 1873 the whole of Ely Place was put up for sale.
The Rosminians. whose city work was impeded by lack of space and chapels and schools unsuitable for enlargement, bid far the ancient and historic pre-Reformation chapel, Providentially, Fr. Lockhart was successful in obtaining it for a low sum owing to a misunderstanding on the part of the opposing bidders acting in the interests of a Welsh clergyman.
Under the Rosminians the parish church of St. Etheldreda's has been steadily beautified, and despite the migration of people from the city has constantly increased its hold on large numbers of Catholics.
It has had a very special appeal for converts who perhaps. in Fr. Tyrrell's words, recognised there "the old business carried on in the old authentic way." One of the latest wellknown converts to find there his way to God and Our Lady is Mr. Douglas Hyde.
The full history of St. Etheldreda's may be read in the recently published Saint Etheldreda and Ely Place. by Linwood Sleigh (Paternoster Publications, 67 Fleet Street, 4s. 6d.).