2: THE NEW CHURCH, 1958
On the morning of 15 June 1958, Fr William Mena, parish priest of St Edmund’s, excitedly tuned in to Vatican Radio and recorded this message: “Vatican Radio joins its voice to those of many others in offering congratulations to the Catholics of Loughton on this achievement…” It was the first day of the new church, and it was to be a day to remember.
The parishioners of St Edmund’s now had a building to admire. Its most eye-catching feature was, and is, the huge cross fronting the church, bearing an almost life-sized figure of Christ in Glory and (originally) rising from a small water-filled basin. It is the work of Michael Clark; at the other side of the entrance his father, Lindsay Clark, carved a depiction of the Annunciation in Doulting stone. The church’s windows are of hand-made antique glass. Inside, the Stations of the Cross are carved in Ancaster stone by John Skelton, Eric Gill’s nephew and last pupil. The engraved glass doors of the former baptistery, depicting the symbols of the sacrament of baptism and the faith, are by John Hutton who worked on the West Screen of Coventry Cathedral. The high altar is of Ancaster weatherbed stone, its mahogany canopy enriched by coloured wood carvings. High above all else is a glass “jewel” window depicting a golden chalice overflowing with the Blood of Christ and surmounted by the Host.
Of the “old tin hut”, only the statue of St Edmund and the crucifix behind the altar remain. The crucifix was blessed in 1948, and is a copy of the Crucifix of Limpias in Northern Spain. The pipe organ was made by George Osmond and Co of Taunton, a worthy instrument for this simple and devotional church.
On that exciting June day nearly fifty years ago, Bishop Bernard Wall performed the opening ceremony. The Claretian order’s Superior General, the Most Rev Peter Schweiger, flew in especially from Rome to celebrate Mass jointly with the Very Rev Stephen Emaldia, provincial Superior of the Claretians — and a former a curate at the church. The Claretian senior students sang in Gregorian chant the Mass of the Feast of St Edmund, and the choirs of St Edmund’s and St Thomas More’s sang the daily order to the music of Lorenzo Perosi.
At the close of the day, Fr Gamm played back the morning message from Vatican Radio, and parishioners could reflect on a successful and auspicious opening of St Edmund’s brand new church.