A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode

St Thomas’s Catholic Church, Horcott, Fairford

Guide to the Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Horcott, Fairford

by Richard Barton 2003

Please click here to view a .pdf copy of this guide (Adobe Reader required).

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New Windows for the Catholic Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Fairford (2003)

The little Catholic Parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was erected in 1845 and on the day of its solemn opening the only stained glass window in the church was the triple lancet one above the altar. Now there is a collection of fifteen stained glass windows and they represent the changing fashions and styles of nearly 160 years and are the work of at least seven different artists. These include John Hardman of Birmingham, Jones & Willis, Geoffrey Robinson of Joseph Bell & Sons of Bristol, Daniella Wilson Dunne of the Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester and Sarianne Durie of Lechlade Mill. The first windows are signed and dated ‘W.W. 1845’ and is the work of William Wailes of Newcastle- upon-Tyne. At this time, Wailes was carrying out many commissions for Augustus Welby Pugin.

The two small quatrefoil windows are the most recent in the church and were commissioned in 2002 and designed by Sarianne Durie of Lechlade Mill. The one above the altar portrays the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove holding an olive twig in its mouth. The other depicts the Eye of God within a triangle, surrounded by a circle and with radiating rays of light. This is a late Renaissance symbol of the infinite holiness of the Triune God who is all knowing, all seeing, and ever present. The Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity was especially popular in England in the twelfth century perhaps through its association with St Thomas of Canterbury who was consecrated bishop on that day in 1162.

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East Quatrefoil Window by Sarianne Durie

Recently Sarianne Durie has been invited to design two windows for the west end of the church. One of them will commemorate St Clotilde’s School at Lechlade Manor which flourished from 1939 until 1998. The second is in thanksgiving for the Founders and Benefactors of our Parish. These windows are on either side of the crucifix which is mounted on the wall. Above them is a small quatrefoil window, which depicts the ever-present Eye of the Triune God.

St Clotilde’s window will be bathed in violet rays to represent the school colour. The design will incorporate the heads and shoulders of the deacon martyr, St Lawrence, who was roasted alive on a grid-iron for not complying with the Roman authorities; St Clotilde supported by her husband, King Clovis, and Madame Desfontaines, the Foundress of the Congregation of St Clotilde. St Lawrence was chosen because Bishop Lee celebrated the first Mass in the Convent Chapel on the feast of St Lawrence in 1939 and the local Parish Church, built in the mid-fifteenth century, is dedicated to St Lawrence. When the Chapel was built in 1960 the side altar was dedicated to St Lawrence and the community always celebrated the martyr’s feast with special solemnity.

When the Congregation of St Clotilde was founded in Paris in 1821 the Archbishop chose the patron, St Clotilde, because as a fifth century Christian woman she so influenced her royal husband, Clovis, that he became the first Christian King of Gaul.

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Antoinette Sophie Aubry Desfontaines

Antoinette Sophie Aubry Desfontaines was born in 1760 and educated at the Convent of St Aure, a contemplative community of nuns in Paris. At the age of nineteen she entered the noviciate at St Aure where she would have developed a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In 1789 the French Revolution broke out and five years later the nuns of St Aure were imprisoned in the Port Royal gaol. After several months, they were released, due to the fall of Robespierre and as a result of the gratitude of their guard whose little child was nursed by the nuns when seriously ill. In 1796 the nuns grouped together in Paris in new circumstances and Antoinette established a school. Gradually a new religious order was born which has since educated numerous young women and developed the motto ‘Sauviter et Fortiter’ – ‘Gently and Firmly’.

The second window depicts personalities from the pages of local Catholic history. The Blessed Stephen Rowsham is shown at the top of the window. In the centre is James Radcliffe, third Earl of Derwentwater with his wife Anna Maria Webb, the eldest daughter of Sir John Webb of Hatherop Castle. Beneath them is the Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God.

Stephen Rowsham was born in Oxford in about the year 1555. He became Curate of St Mary’s Parish Church in Oxford where he became acquainted with the Jesuit Priest, William Warford, who described him as “a man of pleasant countenance with a brown beard and full sweet voice; small and a little crooked, his neck awry and one shoulder higher than the other”.  Within two years of taking orders in the Church of England, Rowsham resigned his living in Oxford and was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He journeyed to Rheims and was eventually ordained priest at Soissons in 1581. In due course he returned to England but was quickly arrested and imprisoned before being banished from the country. This did not deter him for he returned once more to England in 1586 and was later arrested in the home of Bridget Strange, ‘a most ancient and perfytt Catholique’, of Chesterton Manor in Cirencester. Rowsham was later imprisoned in Gloucester and sentenced to death. During his time of incarceration he became friendly with Mr Thomson, a well-known recusant from Burford, and he encouraged Rowsham to circulate details of the strange mystical visions that he had experienced. He was hung drawn and quartered at Gloucester and March 1587 is the traditional date given for his death. A story is told that on one occasion he consumed a large spider which fell into the chalice whilst he was celebrating Mass.


James, third Earl of Derwentwater

On 10th July 1712 Anna Maria Webb of Hatherop Castle was married to James, third Earl of Derwentwater. He was young, rich and attractive, a grandson of Charles II, a Roman Catholic, and a great landed proprietor in the North of England. In 1715 he suffered on Tower Hill at the age of twenty-seven for complicity in the Jacobite rising. The couple spent the first two years of their married life at Hatherop and it was to this house that the young widow retired with her children and where she received the beautiful letters of sympathy from her friend Father Lane. Lady Mary Radcliffe, wrote to her nephew’s widow:  “Madam, you and I may have this comfort, yt by the Grace of God he made a Most Happy and Glorious End, worthy of his Education and worthy of his family, chusing rather death than renounce his Faith, which offer I understand was made to him, and therefore I don’t question but he truly dy’d A Martyr”.

Blessed Dominic Barberi was born into a peasant family in Italy in 1792. His parents died when he was a child and he was nearly conscripted into the Napoleonic army which was then marching on Moscow. He became a Passionist and on a number of occasions he had visionary experiences that led to a great interest and desire to work in England.  Having taught Theology his enthusiasm for missionary work in England was re-kindled and he finally arrived in England in 1841. He made for Aston in Staffordshire but he became the laughing stock of the place. He looked funny, his clothes never fitted properly and his squeaky, broken Italian voice offered little magnetism. Gradually his sheer holiness and sincerity disarmed all, especially non-Catholics, and he must be regarded as an Apostle to England and as a Herald of Ecumenism. He received John Henry Newman into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1845 and later set up a Retreat at Northfields near Nailsworth. From there he travelled to St Thomas’s Fairford to celebrate the first Easter Mass in the new church and members of his Passionist Community served the Fairford mission for some years. Blessed Dominic died on August 27th 1849 having collapsed at Pangbourne Station. He died in the Railway Tavern at Reading and was beatified by Pope Paul VI on October 27th 1963.

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The little Catholic Parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury was erected in 1845 and on the day of its solemn opening the only stained glass window in the church was the triple lancet one above the altar. Now there is a collection of fifteen stained glass windows and they represent the changing fashions and styles of nearly 160 years and are the work of at least seven different artists. These include John Hardman of Birmingham, Jones & Willis, Geoffrey Robinson of Joseph Bell & Sons of Bristol, Daniella Wilson Dunne of the Brewery Arts Centre, Cirencester, and Sarianne Durie of Lechlade Mill.

The first window is signed and dated ‘W.W. 1845’ and is the work of William Wailes.

Its faded patterned glass provides a backcloth for three elliptical shaped medallions. The one in the centre light depicts St Thomas of Canterbury robed in his pontifical vestments and wearing the pallium around his neck. He carries the metropolitan cross of Canterbury and the sword of William de Tracy, his assassin, passes through his head. The inscription ‘+ S Thomas Cantvar’ is just visible. St Thomas is flanked on the right by Pope St Gregory encountering the Anglo-Saxon youths in the Roman slave market. On the left St Augustine of Canterbury is received by King Aethelberht of Kent, and Bertha his Christian Queen, having arrived on the Isle of Thanet in 597.

William Wailes of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who designed the window, carried out work for Pugin and the central figure of St Thomas is somewhat Puginesque in its style. There has been a tradition that A.W. Pugin was involved in the design of our church so this may add weight to this theory. Before 1845 Pugin produced designs for windows made by William Warrington, Thomas Willement and William Wailes mostly for his own building projects but, from 1845, he became involved in all aspects of window making when he formed an association with John Hardman of Birmingham. Wailes provided glass for the Catholic Cathedrals in Nottingham and Southwark together with St Giles Church in Cheadle – Pugin’s masterpiece.

A scheme has been drawn up to conserve the window and this is being carried out by Tanith Harvey of Artistica Glass Designs who will be using the glass painter Stewart Bowman, who was trained by Clayton & Bell, and his nephew David Bowman who is glazier and fitter. Last year they worked together on medieval stained glass at Stratton Audley. They intend to re-lead the windows, replace crude repairs and to paint back in faded areas in a sympathetic style and ‘aged’ to blend with other paintwork Windows of this period were often the result of experimental techniques and they were not always fired correctly and the paints used have not stood the test of time. Our windows were removed recently and will be returned to the church for Easter.

This work is costing over £5,000 and any help or ideas for fundraising would be much appreciated. This year the church and presbytery are being re-roofed and the dry stonewalls repaired. It is an expensive time at St Thomas’s!



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