At long last, I returned to Oxford this weekend. The bustling city of the billion bicycles left me awestruck as ever. Not least because of our first stop, a visit to the historic church of St Aloysius Gozaga. Alas, I could not attend Mass at St Mary’s in Harborne, as is my wont. The train proved too early and I will admit a niggling curiosity at the prospect of a Latin sung Mass at St Aloysius’, the only alternative service.
‘St Aloysius of the Church of Rome:
Its incense, reliquaries, brass and lights
Made all seem plain and trivial back at school.›
—John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells
I should say this is not a review of the service, as such. I had all the previous months’ posts lined up before my exams and have not written for quite some time. The written contents of this post, marvellous though they are, represent a stretching of my calligraphic muscles.
During the service, the choir were hidden away on a balcony behind the congregation. The angelic voices, which streamed from above filled the entire church. Incense mingles with the streams of light through the latticed west window to create a smoke of divine implication. The priests were dressed in purple and gold, their Latin pontifications only adding to the majesty of an already overwhelming sermon.
The church was designed, by J. Hansom, the architect of Arundel Cathedral, and the Holy Name church in Manchester. It is of French Gothic inspiration, and was originally colourfully decorated in an Italianate style. In 1954 the decoration was all painted over with two-tone grey. The last repainting in the 1970s gave the church the colours which can be seen today. Oxford Oratory
In all, I thoroughly enjoyed the service, and, while I don’t seek to convert any of you to Catholicism, I might suggest that you visit this wonderful church on your next trip to Oxford. St Aloysius’ is a beautiful place within an immaculate city. Perhaps if you’re there at 11am on a Sunday, catch the Solemn Mass. You won’t regret it.