Roman Catholic Church
Fax: 01797 223 066
Saturday 6pm, Sunday 8am and 10:45am
Tuesday 9:00 am followed by St Anthony’s devotions
Thursday No Mass
Friday 6pm followed by Adoration & Benediction
Saturday 9 am
The Roman Catholic parish of Rye (which includes Rye Harbour) was re-constituted in 1900 with the opening of a tiny neo-Gothic church dedicated to St Walburga, a real “locals” church.
In 1910 the parish was handed over to the care of Franciscan friars,” The Greyfriars”, and by 1926 the congregation had outgrown St Walburga’s. Commissioned to design a bigger church, the architect John Bernard Mendham, who had been brought up in Buenos Aires and was familiar with Spanish colonial architecture and mission churches, pulled out his masterpiece. He built a number of other places of worship in Sussex, and was buried in Hastings when he died in 1951 while working on the re-building of Coventry cathedral; but nothing matches the quality of St Anthony of Padua’s. Visiting architects have applauded it as a classic example of the correct – and restrained – use of decoration. It is believed to be the only Spanish-Romanesque church in Britain. The astonishing thing is that it perfectly matches the surrounding native English architecture. Opened in 1930, it was the first church built in England by friars of the Conventual branch of the Franciscan order (officially the “Order Friars Minor Conventual”) since the days of Henry VIII.
Many items were transferred to St Anthony’s church from St Walburga’s. These include stained glass windows, and the memorial to those who died in the world wars. The magnificent rood cross was a gift of the writer Radclyffe Hall; the donor of the Stations of the Cross preferred to remain anonymous.
The church is exactly the right size for the local Catholic congregation, some of whom are direct descendants of the handful of people who kept the “Old Faith” in the early 1800s. It is known that during penal times, when to be a Catholic priest was punishable by death, Rye’s fishermen smuggled priests to and from France; the town has a strong “dissenter” (now called “free church”) tradition, although many of the old chapels have now gone. There has never been a hint of religious conflict in Rye.
A guide is available at the church; leaflets in Polish and Tacalog are handed out at the port for visiting ships’ crews. Visitors are advised to arrive for Mass early since the church becomes very crowded at all times of the year when the town is hosting an event.