Ukrainian Church of the Holy Family

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Name: Ukrainian Church of the Holy Family
Denomination: Ukrainian Catholic
Address: 21 Binney St, W1K 5BQ
Telephone: 020 7629 1534 / 07561 473888
Web Site:
Email: Click Here

Please visit the website for times of services and details of other events.

The structure which today is the Cathedral of the Holy Family was built as the King’s Weigh House Chapel, in 1891. The origins of this chapel are to be found in the Free Chapel (free from the bishop’s jurisdiction), founded by Queen Matilda in 1148 in the vicinity of the Tower of London. With the passing of the Act of Uniformity, in 1662, the greater portion of the Free Chapel’s congregation left the Established Church and became an independent congregation. Soon afterwards they began to meet in an ancient building in Cornhill, where foreigners’ goods on entering London were compulsorily weighed on the King’s Beam “for the greater security of the citizens”. Thus, their chapel acquired the name, the King’s Weigh House. They retained this name even after building their own chapel on the site of the present Monument Station. After more than two centuries occupying various sites in the City, the chapel moved to the west end and amalgamated with a similar congregation in Robert Street (later renamed Weigh House Street), off Oxford Street. The construction of the present church began on this site in 1889.

The King’s Weigh House Chapel was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the architect of the Natural History Museum. A masterpieces of compact planning with an oval nave and gallery, the cathedral seats 900. The round-arched Italianate classical design, using hard brick and buff terracotta, is typical of Waterhouse and is evident also in his better-known Natural History Museum. The domed ceiling, a World War II casualty, has been restored.

Sir John Burnet, also an architect of many London buildings, adapted the chancel and produced the terracotta framework of the east end, with figures of the Four Beasts of the Apocalypse. He also designed the towering organ, of which only the frame exists. Anning Bell designed the east window glass; the reredos (altar screen) was designed A. E. Henderson in 1927 and carved by Allan Wyon. Of Waterhouse’s original details, the embossed column facings, the curved wooden gallery front, and the Art Nouveau window patterns are especially noteworthy. On the ambulatory wall near the northeast entrance is a stone carving of the Holy Family, salvaged from the Saffron Hill Church, the original place of worship of the Ukrainian Catholic community in London. The dynamic preacher, whose name will always be associated with the King’s Weigh House Church, was the Reverend Doctor Ernest Orchard, who ran the church from 1913 to 1932. Doctor Orchard developed within the Congregationalist structure what came to be known in the early 1920’s as “Free Catholicism”. According to some sources, Orchard himself was received into the Roman Catholic Church before he died.

In 1940 the church building suffered serious bomb damage and was not fully restored until 1953, by which time the congregation had almost totally declined. After several years as the Protestant Chapel for members of the United States Navy stationed in London, this historic church closed and its future seemed very uncertain. Dust gathered on the steps and the King’s Weigh House Church looked forlorn and unwanted.

However, in June of 1968, it entered upon a completely new phase of existence. That same year, Bishop Augustine Hornyak, OSBM, missionary bishop for the Ukrainian Catholics in England since 1961, was raised to the rank of Exarch for the Ukrainian Catholics in Great Britain. Through the assistance of the Archdiocese of Westminster, Bishop Hornyak acquired the King’s Weigh House Church and made it his Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile. Although necessary internal change were made in order to adapt it to Byzantine-Ukrainian worship, the structure of the King’s Weigh House remains essentially the same: its red brick apse glowing warmly, perhaps one might think, nostalgically, in the sunshine.

The first sizeable group of the Ukrainians settled in London following World War II. They were predominantly soldiers, displaced by the War and unable to return to their homeland because of the Communist occupation and subsequent suppression of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. It was this group that worshipped in the original church on Saffron Hill and helped acquire the present building. Following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence, together with the renewal of church life in Ukraine, a new influx of Ukrainian immigrants arrived in London. The Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral remains an anchor for old and new generations alike, a spiritual and tranquil refuge and a peaceful oasis amidst the frenzy of modern urban life.

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