St. Mark’s English Church, Florence
St. Mark’s English Church
May 20, 2021 – 10:11 AM
To encourage trade through the port of Livorno, Grand Duke Ferdinand I de ‘Medici adopted an edict in 1595 which allowed freedom of religion to all merchants. Soon an English cemetery was established, and in 1600 a chapel was opened by the English Guild of Merchants. A Church of England congregation composed mainly of British expatriates has been present in Florence since the early 1800s. From 1827, the faithful gathered at the Palazzo Panciatichi-Ximenes d’Aragona in borgo Pinti, seat of the British delegation to the Court of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Other temporary solutions were found over time, including the English worshiping together in the Swiss Church, who gathered in Bianca Cappello’s house via Maggio and later via dei Serragli. By 1837, the first Anglican church outside of Livorno had been established and the Club des Anglais inaugurated in Bagni di Lucca, a fashionable seaside resort for English travelers. British residents of Florence also felt the need for a place of worship of their own. In 1844, the first Holy Trinity Church was built via La Marmora. The later Gothic structure, the present-day Vaud church, was consecrated in 1904.
Reflecting one of the changes in the interpretation of the Anglican faith of the Church of England in England, a number of community members separated from Holy Trinity in 1877. The High Church movement grew. returned to the Catholic past of the Anglican tradition for its teachings, faith, liturgy and ceremony. The Church of the Holy Trinity was considered too “low” in its worship, while the new community of St. Mark wanted services to be held in accordance with Anglo-Catholic teaching. They were led by their chaplain, the Reverend Charles Tooth (1831–94), from the Tooth Brothers brewery family in Burton upon Trent, whose brother Arthur, also a priest, was one of the founders of the movement in England. After starting their meetings in a house in via dei Serragli, Tooth bought the building at number 18 via Maggio in 1880, not far from Ponte Santa Trinita. The building, which had probably been two medieval houses joined together, is said to be one of the original houses of the Machiavelli family. It has a typical Renaissance facade with one side facing via Maggio and the rear facing the Santo Spirito Church. Tooth was actively involved in the design of the church, with the English Gothic architect George Frederick Bodley (1827–07). The church was located on the ground floor, while the upper floors were intended for the chaplain’s residence with other living spaces for parish assistants. This would become the English Church of St. Mark, where it still stands today. Tooth celebrated the first mass in 1881, although neither he nor the church were allowed to do so until the Diocese of Gibraltar recognized them in 1884. Tooth remained chaplain until 1894, the year of his death. The goals of Tooth’s ministry were to glorify God, to provide a deeply spiritual and liturgical experience, and to be of service to the community.
The goals of Tooth’s ministry were to glorify God, to provide a deeply spiritual and liturgical experience, and to be of service to the community.
St. Mark’s English Church, Florence
Reverend Tooth also paid meticulous attention to the internal beautification of the church by recreating a Renaissance feel inside the building. At that time, changes were occurring in England as the middle class continued to prosper, improving living and working conditions and opening up new horizons through travel. The Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement became very fashionable. Both often used decorative medieval, romantic or folk styles and themes. Over the next decade, after raising sufficient funds, the beautiful and unique interior design and furnishings of the building took place in a reflection of these two styles. This was largely the work of Bodley, who was influenced by William Morris, a poet, designer and social activist as well as a leader of the Arts and Crafts movement. Bodley designed the wall stencil, which was paid for by the English Second Wave Pre-Raphaelite artist John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1828–1908) circa 1893. This same design was later used by Bodley in the Gothic Revival Holy Trinity Church. By 1892 Bodley had stayed with Spencer Stanhope, who had moved permanently to Florence in 1880 after buying a villa in Bellavista in 1873 to spend the winter there because of his chronic asthma. The altarpiece painting is believed to be by C. Jeffreys, but Spencer Stanhope likely designed the entire structure, the elegant Renaissance-style gilded frame and sculpted marble altar front, as well as the choice of subject for painting and marble sculpture.
In 1906, the original St. Mark’s building proved too small for the growing congregation, so church member Thomas Brocklebank purchased the adjacent building and donated it to the church. Over the next five years, it was used to build a Lady’s Chapel (now the organ vault), a sacristy, a larger vestibule, and additional apartments upstairs. In 1910, as the work progressed, it became evident that the church’s slender columns were not strong enough to support the increasing weight, forcing them to be replaced by the current somewhat bulky pillars. .
Between 1939 and 1944, St. Mark’s was closed, but left in the care of its keeper. Father Frederick Bailey, the chaplain, was arrested and interned for several months in 1944. Upon his release he was allowed to return to England. With the arrival of Allied troops, the church was reopened and services were held by a military chaplain. Father Bailey was featured in Alex Preston’s 2014 novel, In love and war, located in Tuscany.
In 1966, the flood hit Florence and the invading waters rose almost four feet inside the church, further evidenced by a dark stain on the marble font. The chaplain had time to save St. Mark’s most precious treasures, but the original English organ was damaged beyond repair. A new one was not inaugurated until 1970.
Jason Arkles’s statue of Saint Mark at the English Church of Saint Mark, Florence
In 2008, the American sculptor Jason Arkles was commissioned to make a statue of St. Mark for the empty niche on the exterior facade.
Today, Saint-Marc continues its important ministry in addition to offering a generous cultural and social program. to the congregation and to the friends coordinated by its cultural association. This includes the opera house in St. Mark’s, concerts and recitals, a theater club, a writers’ group, a book club, yoga and other activities that everyone in the city is welcome to join. join.
Become a friend of Saint-Marc
To celebrate its 140th anniversary, the Church is launching Friends of Saint-Marc, a long-term fundraising initiative dedicated to keeping Saint-Marc open and available to all for years to come.
Anyone who becomes a friend will enjoy exclusive benefits such as Friends’ Weekend, Priority Booking for Events and more, while supporting a historic and vibrant community in the heart of Florence.
St Mark’s is a place of worship and quiet reflection, to create music and art, and a place for community, welcoming to all. To find out more, visit www.stmarksitaly.com or contact us at [email protected].