Private Chapels Songs of Praise


Private Chapels

Bill Turnbull goes behind the scenes of some of Britain's most fascinating private chapels, from the ornate splendour of Europe's largest to possibly the smallest.


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Transcript


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Welcome to Auckland Castle, in the middle of County Durham.

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For more than 900 years it has been the Palace of the Bishops of Durham

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and, at its heart, stands the largest private chapel in Europe -

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one of many special spiritual spaces

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originally built as private places of worship.

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So, in today's programme, we are looking at why

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these private chapels came to be built

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and how many of them are now

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throwing their doors open to the public.

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We meet the husband who made it his mission to build

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one of Britain's smallest chapels for his wife in their back garden.

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I'll visit one of the country's oldest family chapels

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to find out how it survived hundreds of years of upheaval

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to become a special place of worship,

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and congregations sing at stunning private chapels across the country.

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We start here in St Peter's Chapel at Auckland Castle,

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with our first hymn,

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which emphasises that Christ is the cornerstone of our faith.

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Nestled in the beautiful Durham countryside,

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Auckland Castle is rated as one of the grandest working offices

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for bishops outside the Vatican and Avignon

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and, at its heart, is a unique place.

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With room for about 150 people,

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St Peter's is the largest private chapel in Europe.

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It has superb stained-glass windows, beautiful stone pillars,

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six angels and wonderful intricately carved oak.

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It looks every bit the original medieval chapel.

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The truth, though, is rather different.

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It started life in the 12th century as a banqueting hall

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where the Prince Bishops of Durham entertained their guests.

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But, in 1665, it was extended and turned into a magnificent chapel

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by the new Bishop of Durham, John Cosin.

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Four years ago, investment banker Jonathan Ruffer

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agreed to pay £15 million to retain the castle's collection

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of rare religious paintings at Auckland.

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These are the 13 pictures by Zurbaran.

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A crossroads where different faiths,

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different parts of Christianity, meet.

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In the process, Jonathan realised he could also save

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both the castle and its private chapel

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for the benefit of the people of the north-east.

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It was also important to you as a matter of faith?

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It was.

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I have always wanted to do what I felt I was being called to

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and I came to see that, actually, the whole purpose of my life,

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that this was the culmination,

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that I was here to help this region

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and to do it through making this place of beauty

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something which would be available to the whole community.

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For much of the past 200 years,

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St Peter's has rarely been open to the public.

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Now, visitors can step into this magnificent private chapel

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and see it in all its glory.

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These pillars are, in fact, the oldest part of the edifice here.

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They date back to the early 1200s.

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The ceiling is very impressive too, isn't it?

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The ceiling is great.

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The gold and blue ones were Bishop Cosins' own colours.

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I think of them as his racing colours.

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The chapel was definitely for the Bishop's use,

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and all his chaplains and those who were close to him.

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But what this reeks of is exclusivity.

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And you only have to look at the screen to get the feeling

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that if you wandered in you were not especially welcome here.

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What is so special for you about St Peter's Chapel?

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I think it's that buildings are for people

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and what I want for this chapel, and for the whole of Auckland Castle,

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is that it's a place where people can come and be changed.

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A chapel like this should be open to the public to look at it.

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It has got history behind it of great interest.

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It's great that we can all enjoy these buildings now.

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They were once seen by very few people.

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Private chapels are as old as Christianity itself in Britain.

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The first were built as houses of prayer

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where monks and nuns could gather. Later, as with

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Normanton Church on Rutland Water,

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some landowners built chapels on their country estates

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for their own use.

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With the nearest parish church often many miles away,

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it was also a matter of convenience.

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Today, many private chapels are no longer exclusive places of worship

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and are now throwing the doors open to everyone.

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The Theology College at Cuddesdon, near Oxford,

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is home to one of Britain's newest and one of its most remarkable.

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It's hard when you walk into this building

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not to feel inspired in some way. People talk about the power

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of the light and a sense of peace.

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What strikes me is a feeling of intimacy that you can get here.

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It's almost like being embraced within a heart.

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This very contemporary building

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is the brainchild of a small community of Anglican nuns,

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the Sisters of Cuddesdon.

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The idea was that we wanted a design which was modern,

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of the 21st century,

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as well as one that would blend with the old college buildings.

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As soon as I come in the door,

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I feel the presence of God in this place.

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There's the light that we have in the building,

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even on a dull day,

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but particularly when the sun's beginning to come through

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later in the day.

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That is very much a reminder of the light of God.

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The Sisters' inspirational choice of design for the ceiling

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was an upturned boat,

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which harked back to the early Christians who set sail for Ireland.

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I love it visually. I love the significance of the rainbows.

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The effects of the light are always different.

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It's a beautiful place to be.

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Cuddesdon is the only college in the country

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where trainee vicars live alongside an order of nuns.

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The Sisters believe the chapel has helped create

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a special Christian community.

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You know, in many churches,

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people walk in and sit in the back row

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and the front rows are left empty.

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Here, there is no back row, as it were,

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and so you are with people, there is a sense of wholeness

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and all belonging.

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Every day, the nuns and the students get together

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for tea and cakes with their families.

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For Matt Simpkins,

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the chapel is very much at the heart of their community.

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Actually, what happens in there is public.

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We don't just welcome visitors,

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but every time we take Holy Communion together

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we are joining with Christians across the world and across history.

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There couldn't be anything more public than that.

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And that's is why I love the chapel.

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As an elderly community, who used to be over 200 sisters,

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and now are down to us,

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it's lovely to know that we've been able

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to give something special to the future.

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When Jon Richards told his wife, Muriel,

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that he wanted to build a shed in their garden,

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she thought it was a good idea.

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But Jon's secret plan was actually to create something very different.

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The church plays a big part in Muriel's life

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and I thought it would be nice for her to have the chapel.

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The element of surprise was a big thing in my mind.

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I told her I was going to have a proper garden shed for once,

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somewhere I can work and I can have a television, radio.

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As Jon's so-called garden shed started to take shape,

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Muriel suddenly grew suspicious.

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The Gothic frame went in

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and I realised then what it was going to be - it was a clue.

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And then he had to tell me.

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So, it was just a wonderful, wonderful day for me.

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And I could have cried!

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Now the couple's big challenge was to scour Britain's reclamation yards

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to find the right artefacts to go into their special chapel.

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This particular crucifixion is bronze.

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I wasn't aware, until the time I saw this, how expense bronze was.

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The particular reclamation yard was in Bristol.

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He asked me if I wanted it.

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I said, "Well, I'm looking for something simpler,

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"it's just for a chapel in a garden."

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And he said, "Well, that's exactly where that deserves to be,"

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and he knocked a lot of money off.

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I brought it back and Muriel was delighted.

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In all, it took Jon 2½ years to complete the project.

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Jon is amazing, that he took the time

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and the trouble to do this as a present for me.

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I think it gives me a lot of inspiration.

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Most days I go over in my own time

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and have the peace and tranquillity that it gives me.

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Let us pray.

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And today, what is one of Britain's smallest chapels,

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is proving a big hit with local people.

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Once a month, Jon and Muriel hold a special service

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at the Chapel of the Crosses for the whole village.

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The monthly services are very important to us

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because we like to get involved with all the people

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that come to that service.

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They are regular people that come every time that we have a service.

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-ALL:

-..But deliver us from evil...

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Was it a romantic idea of mine to build a chapel for my wife?

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110%, yes!

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We are romantic people.

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I do believe that it was love that brought this on.

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We will do most things for each other

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and that's what we call love, really.

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During the more turbulent periods of English history,

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private chapels were sometimes used as safe havens

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to help people escape from religious persecution.

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Here in Oxfordshire, Stonor Park has been in the hands

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of the same Catholic family for more than 800 years.

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And, like the Stonors themselves,

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its chapel has managed to survive some very testing times.

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It's thought that Mass has been celebrated

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at the Catholic Chapel of the Most Blessed Trinity

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every week since it was built in the 13th century.

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And, for one period,

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worshippers' pursuit of their faith became a matter of life and death.

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-This is where Mass was celebrated in secret.

-Yes.

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-For a couple of hundred years.

-Nearly 300.

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In 1533, when Henry VIII sparked the Reformation

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with the break of the Church from Rome,

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Catholics were soon targeted and persecuted.

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So, many headed to the Chapel at Stonor Park.

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The families like us who had their own private chapel,

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they actually provided Mass centres,

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were Mass was celebrated.

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Those private chapels, it probably did more than anything else

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to help the Catholic faith survive.

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The Stonor family paid a heavy price for harbouring Catholics.

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When government agents learned that priest Edmund Campion

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had been hidden at the house,

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one family member was exiled for life

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and two others were jailed.

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Bill, this is a fascinating book.

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A Summary of the Penal Laws.

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So, this is laws restricting the lives of Catholics?

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Indeed, and also explaining what the penalties were.

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By the end of the 17th century,

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the number of Catholics had dropped to about 100,000.

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And all of that idea was to extinguish Catholicism.

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So, Catholics weren't just treated as second-class citizens,

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they weren't even citizens, in some respects.

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Absolutely not. They couldn't hold a public office,

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they couldn't go into the law.

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It must have been, for them, desperately, desperately depressing.

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Today, nearly 200 years after laws were introduced

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allowing Catholics to worship openly again,

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the chapel remains a very important place for many.

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The Camoys family are always very welcoming here,

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and you just feel a complete spiritual feeling,

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which envelops you when you are here.

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It's very important to welcome people here.

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There's been a long history of involving our neighbours,

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so that gives one great hope that the chapel will go on

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being used and being visited much longer than my life.

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Many private chapels have an open-door policy

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and often become a spiritual resource for outsiders.

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When Emma van Spyk set up her own chapel

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as part of a country retreat in Lincolnshire,

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she hoped it would provide support for the hundreds of visitors

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that she welcomed every year.

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What she couldn't have realised, though,

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was just how much it would help her cope with her own personal tragedy.

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Emma and her family moved into Wykes Manor, near Spalding,

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seven years ago.

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The first visit we came here, there was a huge, great candelabra

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that had been left standing outside what was the trap house.

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So, we just thought, "Oh, that's where the chapel's to be, then!"

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And it was as basic as that.

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From whitewashing walls to painting religious icons,

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the family spent four years working painstakingly

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to create their perfect chapel.

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But, just as they were nearing its completion,

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they were suddenly rocked by tragedy.

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It was a dark November evening and Emma's 18-year-old son, John,

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was late coming home from college on his motorbike.

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Six o'clock, there was a knock on our back door

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and through the door walked a policeman.

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So, I just looked at him and I said, "You don't have to say anything.

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"Is he dead or is he wounded?"

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And he said, "He's dead, I'm afraid."

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And I said, "Was it instant?" He said, "Yes."

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I said, "Thank God."

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After John was killed, he lay in the chapel for nearly three days.

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So, all our friends and family said their goodbye that way.

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The chapel was very important in keeping John's memory alive.

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I think the chapel's useful for people to come

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and just sit there and, like, pray.

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We've had people who have just come and seen it and been,

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"Oh, wow! It's so cool!"

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I feel so lucky. It's nice to have a chapel there.

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Today, John's memory lives on through his

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paintings inside the chapel.

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I now have a permanent record of my son's talents.

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He was 16½, 17, when he painted these,

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so he probably would have gone on to great things.

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Let's offer them up to Our Lady as we say,

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Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

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And, three years on, the chapel which John helped create

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serves as the spiritual heart of their retreat.

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It's a place for everybody. It's not exclusive.

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Our personal Christian faith is the battery behind it,

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but it's open for everybody.

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In the name of the Father, and of the Son

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and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Well, I hope you've enjoyed our journey around some of the wonderful

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private chapels across the country,

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many of which you can now visit yourself.

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You've been treated to some superb music and we're going to leave you

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with our final hymn today.

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Next week we celebrate harvest, and Claire visits Kenya

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to see how the humble Irish potato is transforming lives.

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There's music from Stuart Townend

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and from the southern Gospel quartet, the Taylors.

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And our choirs will be singing some great harvest hymns.

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Bill Turnbull goes behind the scenes of some of Britain's most fascinating private chapels. He discovers the ornate splendour of Europe's largest to one man's incredible mission to create possibly the smallest. Plus, music from choirs at private chapels in some of the country's most stunning locations.


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