Shrine of the Dorset Martyrs

A correspondent has sent me these beautiful photographs from the Chapel of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs and St Ignatius in Chideock, Dorset. Many thanks to him also for the background information which I have incorporated into this post.

The framework of the building was originally, a barn where the Catholic faithful gathered to attend secret Masses celebrated by priests operating under cover. Very soon, the location was identified and became unsafe but then a secret chapel was built in the loft area and the walls painted in fresco fashion. These faded and peeling images are still clearly visible today.

Amazingly, the “hidden chapel” continued to be used for nearly 150 years before it became relatively safe for Catholics to emerge to a cautious semi-public existence in the early 19th century.

It was in this period that a local Catholic family of some wealth (the Welds), bought the estate and began the process of transforming the barn into a beautiful and richly decorated Chapel. The work was completed in 1872 under the direction of Charles Weld who both created the designs for the Romanesque style that emerged but also carried out much of the work personally.

The external entrance focuses on a classic rondel in painted terracotta complete with a statue of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs surrounded by her seven sorrows. The font appears to have been styled on those found in early Tuscan churches and many of the statues are gilded rather than being painted in flesh tones. An especially fine baroque style statue of Our Lady stands above the altar. The whole Chapel is painted in a range of colours that are subdued but, also, not lacking in warmth and brightness.

In the “secret chapel” stands a chair used by one of the martyrs, St Hugh Green and it is placed so casually in the room that you can almost imagine the saint walking through the door, ready to robe for Mass.An artefact which took my breath away was the 16th century portable altar used by the missionary priests during the time of persecution. You can see the embedded altar stone, and the altar cards would be perfectly usable by a priest celebrating Mass in the usus antiquior today.

The chapel is currently served by the parish of Ss Mary and Catherine in Bridport, and Mass is celebrated there each week. The friends of the chapel have started up a dedicated website which promises more information soon.

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