High Street, Great Billing, Northants
An endearing church, especially the classical interior. Architecturally the exterior is unremarkable, although the tower is attractive for its Mediterranean character. The church is the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
The Catholic church at Great Billing owes its existence to the Elwes family of the now-demolished Billing Hall. In 1795 the Lincolnshire branch of the family purchased Billing Hall. In 1866 Valentine Cary Elwes inherited the estate and his family converted to Catholicism in 1874. A chapel was set up in the Hall, soon replaced by a church in the village, which they built in 1878. The Tablet wrote (14 September 1878):
‘The fittings of the new church are completely Roman, with a magnificent picture over the high altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. There is also a most devotional Pieta and other Munich statues. One cannot fail to be struck with the earnestness of the newly gathered congregation, many of whom have had a good deal of petty persecution to endure, and with the interest evinced by all the villagers in the matter. And while the bell of the Protestant church is silent from Sunday to Sunday the daily “Angelus” and the call to the Holy Sacrifice each morning from the turrets of the new church and the Hall Chapel make one almost believe one is in a Catholic country, and give good hope, at least, that where the seed time is so prosperous the harvest of souls will be great, and that Billing will ere long be a Catholic village’.
Valentine’s son, Dudley became the fifth Bishop of Northampton in 1921.The church was enlarged in 1926, probably with the addition of the aisles. In 2006 it became the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
The altar faces north but for the purposes of this description all references to compass points will be taken on the basis of a conventional eastward facing altar. The church comprises a west tower, aisled nave and sanctuary. It is of brick, painted white, with slate roofs and flat roofs to the aisles. The tower has a shallow overhanging pyramid roof and two tiers of narrow slit bell openings arranged three over two. A cross is fixed to the apex of the roof. Gabled porch on timber brackets of recent date as part of a re-arrangement at the front of the church providing ramped access. The aisles have three squat round-arched windows of domestic character with timber glazing bars. The sanctuary is lit only by skylights. The design of the tower and the white painted exterior give the church a Mediterranean character.
The interior is a surprise, low and with high quality classical detailing. This work most probably dates from 1926 when the church was enlarged. Tuscan Doric columns and a simplified triglyph frieze run around the nave and are continued around the sanctuary. The sanctuary also has round-headed alcoves and pilasters. Altar with pedimented reredos, incorporating a copy of the famous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour from St Matthew in Merulana, Rome, now looked after by the Redemptorists in the church of St Alphonsus on the Via Merulana. Altar rails and matching balustrades at the front of the pews of heavy turned balusters. The Lady Altar in the south aisle has a pedimented aedicule of circa 1994, made by Ormesby of Scarisbrick. Gothic seats in the sanctuary. Nave pews, some open backed others with panelled backs.
Amended by AHP 24.01.2021
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1878
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed