The history of St Peter’s Parish, Marlow and its two Churches mirrors the story of the revival of Catholicism in England between the first half of the nineteenth century and the present time.
The original St Peters Church was opened in 1846, just seventeen years after the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill which allowed Catholics to become MPs and take an active role in public life.
The impetus for the building of the church also reflects another important nineteenth century development – the migration of a number of high profile members of the Anglican Church to the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of the convert Cardinal Newman. One of those followers of Newman was Charles Scott Murray, sometime Conservative MP for Buckinghamshire, a well-connected and wealthy man, who in gratitude for his new found faith decided to build a church in Marlow, the first new Catholic Church to be built in the county of Buckinghamshire since the Reformation.
He employed one of the greatest nineteenth century architects, Augustus Welby Pugin, another eminent convert and the designer of the interior of the rebuilt House of Parliament. St Peter’s old church is recognized as a small masterpiece and is a Grade II (?) listed building
The new church was completed in 1970 and reflects the influence of the Second Vatican Council. Its circular shape – with the congregation surrounding the altar – emphasizes the new, more active role of the laity.
The old church with its fine detail and decoration is the product of Pugin’s enthusiasm for the Gothick style. The new church designed by Francis Pollen by contrast is quite stark. The altar here is dominated by a striking modern mural of the Ascension – it is a projection of the idea of the mystery rather than a simple representation of the event. The crucifix is minimalist and powerful.
Both churches are in regular use – the new church for the main services on Sundays and feast days and the old church for weekdays Masses.
When the old church was built, it was the only dedicated place of Catholic worship in the County of Buckinghamshire. Today within an eight mile radius there are eight other Catholic Churches.
A full account of the history of St Peter’s, the church and the Parish is available on sale in the Church.