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Four East Anglia churches given historic listed status

Four historic Catholic churches in the Diocese of East Anglia have been listed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the advice of Historic England, bringing the total churches in the diocese with special protection to 25.

Newly listed at Grade II, are: Our Lady of the Annunciation in King’s Lynn, built with the support of the future King Edward VII;  the gloriously decorated Minster Church of St Benet in Beccles, chosen by the architect as his final resting place; and St Felix in Felixstowe, an Arts and Crafts-inspired church built as an architectural labour of love to accommodate the town’s growing Catholic community

Relisted at Grade I is Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs in Cambridge, one of the largest 19th century Catholic churches in the country.

Rt Rev Peter Collins, Bishop of East Anglia, said: “As a new arrival in East Anglia, I have been delighted to discover the wealth of styles and variety offered by Catholic churches across the region. From our great stone minsters, to the more modest country chapels, the region boasts so many truly fascinating churches. The whole diocese is delighted to learn that so many of our wonderful places of worship have been designated as being worthy of special recognition. These historic churches represent a true testament to the faith of our communities in past centuries and are a key part of the Catholic legacy of East Anglia that we hold in sacred trust for the many generations yet to come.”

Paul Raynes, Director of Operations and Finance for the Diocese said: “Our church buildings are a very visible vehicle for the diocese’s witness to the world. The latest listing decisions give us cause for joy that the whole nation recognises the value of those ‘prayers in stone’.”’

With the addition of the latest churches, the Diocese of East Anglian now boasts 25 listed churches, as well as a host of other listed buildings, in its care.

Historic Churches Support Officer, Matthew Champion, said: “The recognition of these churches as being worthy of listed status by Historic England is a real recognition of all the hard work, both past and present, that members of the Catholic community have undertaken to care and preserve these amazing structures. They are a real testament to the strength of faith in the region, and a jewel to pass on to future generations.”

Caroline Skinner, Historic England Listing Team Leader (East of England) said: “These beautiful Catholic churches have been at the heart of their local communities for generations. The very distinctive, and individual, style of each building tells the story of the development of the Catholic faith over the centuries, and they continue to offer a calming and inspiring space in our busy world today.”

“Each church has a remarkable story to tell, from the building created with the support of the future King Edward VII, to the minster at which the architect chose to be laid to rest, and the church that was made possible by help of a 19th century female architectural patron.”

Our Lady of The Assumption and The English Martyrs, Cambridge (OLEM) (relisted at Grade I)

A significant Cambridge landmark, OLEM was built between 1887 and 1890, funded by Yolande Lyne-Stephens, a successful ballet dancer in France before her marriage to Stephen Lyne-Stephens. On his death in 1860, she inherited a considerable fortune and became a generous supporter of Catholic causes, including the mission at St Mary’s Church in Thetford and a chapel at her estate in Lynford, Norfolk (both Grade II* listed).

One of the largest Catholic churches in the country, at 65 metres high, the OLEM church spire is only slightly lower than the tower of Ely Cathedral. The church’s significant size, landmark features and stunning architectural detail were intended to suit its anticipated role as the centre of Catholic life at Cambridge University.

OLEM has been relisted at Grade I for the building’s superb quality, craftsmanship and architectural vision.


Church of St Felix, Felixstowe (newly listed at Grade II)

It was built as an architectural labour of love to accommodate Felixstowe’s growing Catholic community. In 1910, Beccles architect Francis Easto Banham proposed an Arts and Crafts-influenced Perpendicular Gothic design for the church with a four-bay nave along with a chancel, two side chapels, Lady Chapel, sacristy and an elaborate west front with a tall tower.

When the church was officially opened in 1912, with King Manuel II of Portugal in attendance, only the sanctuary and four bays of the nave had been completed. The church was built in stages when funds became available, until its eventual completion in 1958.

Banham’s son, Fr Cyril Banham, served at the church as parish priest between 1945 and 1961 and set about completing his father’s design, overseeing the completion of the west front of the nave in 1957.

A 21st century reordering has seen a new sanctuary floor, altar, ambo and tabernacle plinth.  In 2018, two striking stained glass windows by the artist Thomas Denny and stained-glass conservator Elizabeth Hippisley-Cox, on the theme of the Divine Mercy, were installed at the west end of the nave.  


Our Lady of the Annunciation, King’s Lynn (newly listed at Grade II)

Built with the support of the future King Edward VII, this 19th century church featured designs by renowned Anglo-Catholic architects A W N Pugin and William Lunn, and helped to revive the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, an important medieval pilgrimage destination.

The Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation was designed in Gothic Revival style by William Lunn and completed in 1897. By the end of the 19th century it was found to be in poor repair. The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), helped to finance its rebuilding and contributed 50 guineas towards the cost.

The church played an important role in the revival of the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, on which King’s Lynn had been an important stage of the journey. In 1897, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was established in the new church’s Lady Chapel by Fr George Wrigglesworth. In 1934, a national shrine was established at Walsingham, with a Pontifical Shrine remaining at Our Lady of the Annunciation.


Minster Church of St Benet, Beccles (newly listed at Grade II*)

Originally intended to be the site of a monastery served by Benedictine monks from Downside Priory, in 1898, a minster church was built in Beccles on land given by John George Kenyon of Gillingham Hall, a Catholic convert.

The impressive large church was designed in a Romanesque style with a richly painted ceiling decoration throughout the church by local architect Francis Easto Banham, who also chose it as his final resting place.

The foundation stone was laid in 1899 and the first Mass was celebrated in the nave on 4 September 1901. It took until 1908 to complete the church.  

The grand interior features a high, barrel-vaulted plastered roof with elaborate stencilling around the arches and a continuous inscription taken from the Rule of St Benedict.

In 1953 the presbytery was converted into a primary school, which opened in 1957, and a new presbytery was built to the north-east of the church.

Pictured top is St Benet, Beccles. All pictures courtesy of Historic England.