A couple of blocks away from Chelsea’s posh shops is a large Catholic church that owes its origins to one of the earliest post-reformation Catholic chapels in the country.

The chapel wasn’t on the same site as the church, but a couple of streets away, roughly where Cadogan Gardens currently stands. It was built by the Abbé Jean Voyaux de Franous, who fled the Terror that swept France after French Revolution and arrived in London in 1793. When he arrived he was charged with the spiritual welfare of the Catholic members of the Chelsea Pensioners, as well as nearby military barracks.

The ability for a Catholic priest to serve the British Army came after a decision by the Duke of York in 1811 to allow soldiers to attend church parades in their own denomination.

The chapel opened in 1812, but when the Abbé died in 1840, the parishioners eyed a plot of land nearby for a much larger church and school as the congregation had grown considerably over the years. This was the Wellington Cricket Ground, and they’ve been there ever since, with the church on the corner, and the school occupying most of the rest of the block.

The foundation stone of the present church was laid in 1877, and the church was opened and blessed by Cardinal Manning in May 1879. The new church was designed by John Francis Bentley, a church architect and decorative designer, mainly for Roman Catholic clients. His chief work was Westminster Cathedral.

Externally, the church is rather sombre in appearance, clearly a church, but with unremitting use of yellow stock brick and minimal decoration, it has a rather forbidding aspect to it. Entry is at the far end of the church through a modest wooden door.

Inside is a surprisingly plain Catholic church, looking more like an Anglican church that has been repurposed than a purpose built gaudy Catholic building. The banded ceiling is pleasing, and the hanging rood at the altar dominates the far end of the church. The high altar and pulpit came from the old chapel, so are over 200 years old.

There is a sculptured monument to the Abbé and the memorial tablets include one to Madame Tussaud, foundress of the famous wax museum.

The church used to have a large graveyard at the back as well, but this is now the playground for the school.

Being a Catholic church, the doors are unlocked most days if you want to pay a visit.

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