Coventry - The Most Holy Sacrament and St Osburg

Upper Hill Street, Coventry CV1

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The oldest Catholic church in Coventry, and the successor parish to the mission in existence by 1707. Built for the Benedictines, the church was designed by Charles Hansom, following his study of continental Gothic churches with the parish priest, Rev. William Bernard Ullathorne OSB (later Bishop of Birmingham). Following severe war damage in 1940 (which included the loss of Hansom’s presbytery), the church was sympathetically repaired by G. B. Cox and enriched with fine stained glass and mosaic work. It was recently reordered.

A Franciscan mission had been established in Coventry by 1707. In 1803 the Franciscans handed its care over to the Benedictines. The Rev. John Dawber OSB bought the present site in Hill Street and built a small brick chapel, which was dedicated in 1807. Its altar included two statues found on the site of the medieval Carthusian monastery in Coventry; after a spell in the local museum, they have been incorporated in the current altar.

In 1841, the Rev. William Bernard Ullathorne (Yorkshireman, Benedictine, erstwhile Vicar General of Australia and later to be the first Bishop of Birmingham) became the mission priest at Coventry. He started the planning and fundraising for a new church and went with Charles Hansom on a tour of Germany and Belgium, seeking inspiration for the new church at Coventry from continental Gothic churches. The foundation stone was laid on 29 May 1843 by the Very Rev. Luke Barber, the President-General of the Congregation of English Benedictines. On 10 August 1844 the nave opened for divine service and was blessed by Bishop Wiseman. The church was dedicated on
9 September 1845, again by Bishop Wiseman. The builder was George Taylor, who also completed the spire in 1851-2.  The dedication is unusual; St Osburg or Osburga was a (possibly apocryphal) eleventh century abbess of a Coventry convent.

In 1884, a new high altar and reredos were installed, as well as (at some point during the late nineteenth century) a new pulpit. In 1890, the original rood screen was removed and the roof replaced. In 1935-40, the oak side screens, all benches and sacristy cupboards were removed due to the presence of death watch beetle. New seating and cupboards were installed. In 1938-40, a new hall and a new school were built by the architect George Bernard Cox of Harrison & Cox, Birmingham.

In November 1940, a bomb destroyed the presbytery and damaged the church’s east end and the school. The church was re-opened after repairs by Cox on 28 September 1952.  In c.1961 the new presbytery (The Priory) was completed from designs by Cox, who also oversaw the repairs to the hall and schools. Cox designed a new high altar and the mosaic decoration of the side chapels, completed in the early 1960s. In about 1968, the interior of the church was redecorated under the direction of W. H. Saunders & Son, who also installed a new forward altar, altar rails and ambo.

In 1992, the Benedictines handed the care of the parish to the Archdiocese of Birmingham. In 2010-11, the church was restored and reordered by Peter Brownhill of Brownhill Hayward Brown of Lichfield. This included a new floor, sanctuary furnishings, glass screen at the west end, and WCs in the link with the Priory.

The list description (below) is extremely brief and does not mention the association with Bishop Ullathorne, the later date of the spire or the post-war rebuilding and alterations.

The church faces northeast; this description follows conventional orientation.

The church was built in 1843-5 from designs by C.F. Hansom, with the spire added in 1851-2. After bomb damage in 1940, the chancel, the side chapels and the roof were sympathetically rebuilt by G. B. Cox, with some small alterations such as the shape of the east windows of the side chapels, and a new flat-roofed sacristy.

The materials are Marston granite with Exhall stone dressings. The main roof is tiled, while the aisles have copper roofs. The plan is longitudinal and the overall style is Early English Gothic. The west elevation has the recessed and moulded west door between lancets, with three stepped lancets and a rose window above. To the south is the three-stage tower with broach spire. The south side of the tower has a plaque with ‘WBU/1843’, commemorating Bishop Ullathorne’s involvement in the building of the church. The south porch gable has statues of the Virgin Mary with the angel Gabriel and a Benedictine monk.

The interior consists of a five-bay nave and a three-bay chancel. The moulded arcades have a label resting on face corbels, and circular columns. Each bay has a single aisle lancet and twin clerestory lancets. The open timber roof rests on colonettes at clerestory level which are supported by angel corbels holding shields with sacred symbols. In the base of the tower is the former baptistery with gates, an aumbry and tiled walls. Under the organ gallery is an etched glass screen (2010-11).

The chancel arch has inner colonettes of polished granite. There are two arches on each side to the side chapels, with one three-light window to the north and three to the south. The sanctuary furnishings date from 2010-11 but the altar incorporates two English medieval alabaster sculptures of St Denis and St Lawrence which formed part of the 1807 chapel. The Early English-style stone font – a bowl on a stem and four columns – may be the original one.

The side chapels have plain post-war altars and opus sectile mosaic decoration (both by G. B. Cox, c.1962-3). The Lady Chapel (southeast) has a central mosaic panel of the Annunciation surrounded by four Marian scenes. The Chapel of St Benedict (northeast) has a central panel of St Benedict’s vision of St Scholastica’s soul ascending to heaven, with four panels with other scenes from his life.

The chancel, the side chapels and the aisles have fine stained glass (1952, Earley of Dublin, photo bottom right) in the style of Harry Clarke. Two lights in the south porch are of a different style and have been attributed to Hardman or Powell of Whitefriars. Owing to Lent, the statues were all shrouded at the time of the visit.

LIST DESCRIPTION:

ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH OF ST OSBURG

List entry Number: 1342912

Grade: II

Date first listed: 24-Jun-1974

 

1. 5105 HILL STREET (South Side)

Roman Catholic Church of St Osburg SP 3279 SE 3/28 

II

2. 1843-45 by Charles Hansom in continental Gothic style of C13 and C14. Nave with clerestories, aisles, chancel with chapels, south west steeple.

Listing NGR: SP3277879317

Diocese: Birmingham

Architect: Charles Francis Hansom

Original Date: 1845

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II