St Bede’s has become one of London’s great liturgical churches. The departing parish priest explains how it all began

St Bede’s Church, Clapham Park, is by no means an imposing building. It is set back from the road and you can quite easily walk past it without spotting it. If you were to see it, you might think that it was a Methodist chapel; perhaps High Methodist, since there is a cross outside the vestibule with SAVE YOUR SOUL painted on it.

Yet you’d be so wrong. Over the past quarter of a century St Bede’s has become one of the great Catholic parishes of London, to be ranked, so far as traditional liturgy is concerned, with Spanish Place, Maiden Lane and even the Brompton Oratory.

St Bede’s rise in the world can be traced back to something that happened on Fort Lauderdale Beach in January 1994. Fr Christopher Basden, then 41, was on the beach with some priest friends. They were on R&R, and talk turned to Klaus Gamber, the late German priest-liturgist whose The Reform of the Roman Liturgy had recently been published. Gamber’s book is a compelling account of the rupture created by the liturgical fidgets during the Second Vatican Council and, even more so, in its wake.

Fr Christopher was fascinated by what he was hearing, and later during that beach break – part of a sabbatical in the United States – his friends took him to a Missa Cantata. He was converted. Not long before, he had been appointed parish priest of St Bede’s – and he was now determined that, when he took up his post in September of that year, he would somehow find a home there for the Old Mass.

Fortunately for him, and indeed for the Church, the legendary Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ agreed to join the team at St Bede’s. He was an extraordinary fellow. By background he was Jewish and Christian Scientist. He converted to Catholicism while serving as an Army officer in Singapore at the beginning of the war. When Singapore fell he was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in the notorious Changi prison.

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