St Anthony’s Church

St Anthony of Padua Church, in Genoa Road, Anerley, was designed by the distinguished architect Frederic Walters who had designed the beautiful Buckfast Abbey in Devon.

The church is named after St Anthony (1195-1231), born Fernando Martins de Bulhoes. He studied theology and Latin from the age of 15 in his native Portugal and later joined the  Franciscan order. He chose to live a life of prayer and was an eloquent speaker. A popular story involves him preaching to the fish when no one would listen to him, much the same as St Francis preached to the birds. He died at the age of 36. After many years it was found that all that had survived of his body was his tongue. He is known word-wide as the finder of lost articles. This reputation started after an episode in his youth when he found the lost book of a friend. It is surprising to learn how many believers and non-believers alike have asked St Anthony to help them find things they have lost—and been successful!

He was canonised in 1232, a year after his death, and proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1946.

A small iron chapel was the first place of worship for Catholics in Genoa Road at a cost of £407. The chapel opened on 25 October 1878.  But the temporary structure soon fell into disrepair and soon a small brick-built church was in its place, the downstairs of which functioned as a school. That building is still there adjoining St Anthony’s Primary School.

By 1924 Fr Frederick Read has raised £2,307 for a new Church to hold a growing congregation. It was a new priest, Father James Walters, who managed to complete the project. Building started in 1925 at a cost of £12,076.

Frederic Walters, the new priest’s father, was commissioned to design the church and this he did in fifteenth century Gothic style, a glance back to the Gothic revivalism of the late Victorian age. The architecture is much simpler in style than Buckfast Abbey. A statue of St Anthony is high up under the gable and illuminated at night. Walters had had a prolific career designing ecclesiastical buildings. St Anthony’s was the last church built according to his design owing to his failing eyesight.

An outstanding aspect of the interior of the church are the extraordinary Stations of the Cross by Flemish sculptor Aloïs De Beule (1861-1935). These are subtly coloured small sculptural tableaus fixed in their own sculptured frames high on the walls around the nave.

De Beule made other versions of these. Another version is in the Liverpool Church of St Anne. The sculptures have been recently restored to vibrant colour and shining gold leaf. A new lighting system means they are shown off in all their dramatic glory, like stills from a spectacular Biblical movie.

De Beule followed his calling as an artist from the age of twenty-three. Going against the advice of his father, a cobbler, he enrolled in art school in Ghent. He was an indefatiguable student and became a much sought-after artist.  He was ranked among the most talented sculptors of his time.  Belgium is home to a vast array of his work including statues, monuments, busts and war memorials such as the ‘Fury of Ypres’, below.  He had work displayed at the 1915 World Exhibition in Ghent.

St Anthony’s today is a thriving community. There is a parish council, prayer groups, scripture discussion groups, bazaars and fetes, barn dances, garden parties, a St Vincent de Paul outreach to the needy, a newsletter and a website. As in many Catholic parishes the school is situated by the church but is run separately from it.

The beautiful church garden has won awards in Penge in Bloom, been a stop on the Penge Churches Heritage Walk and the church itself has been the venue of orchestral concerts during the Penge Festival. The parish priest is Father Sunith Nonis.

For further information see link: St Anthony of Padua Anerley Church