A Short History and Guide to St Mark’s Anglican Church of Florence:
In a from the Rev’d Charles Tooth to a member of the congregation, dated August 9th 1880, the founding priest of Saint Mark's writes:
“You may imagine I have been somewhat busy, when I tell you that just before leaving Florence a month ago, an opportunity presented itself of an eligible site for our new Church – a small old Palazzo in the Via Maggio, no 18, close to Santa Trinita Bridge. I have completed the purchase and the plans, and have now twenty men at work, and I hope in a few months to have the church in use. I am sorry that I cannot send you a drawing, but I think it will finish a respectable looking Church. It will have a Nave, Aisles and Transept and will seat comfortably over 400 people.”
St Mark’s was established on its present Oltrano site in 1881 in order to provide an Anglo-Catholic alternative to the establishment church of Holy Trinity at a time when Anglo-Catholicism was fiercely resisted in England.
It was the Chaplain to the English Community in Siena, the Rev’d Charles Tooth, who brought the Anglo-Catholic Movement to Florence. In 1877, the year that his brother Rev’d Arthur Tooth was arrested and imprisoned in England for leading Anglo-Catholic rites in defiance of the Public Worship Act of 1864, Charles Tooth established an independent ‘house church’ in 1, Via dei Serragli. Its purpose was to promote Anglo-Catholic principles of church teaching and to offer Holy Eucharist five mornings per week. Despite meeting with considerable opposition and social alienation from the fashionable and ‘established ‘ circles of Holy Trinity it rapidly outgrew its home. By 1880, Rev’d Tooth had purchased the core building of today’s church, a small cinquecento palazzo, believed to have once been a home of the Machiavelli family.
1881 Holy Eucharist was first celebrated in this Church on May 1st, the Festival of St Philip & St James.
1895 The Guild of St Mark’s affiliated to the Anglican Guild was formed by Rev’d Herbert Tanner, assistant to Rev’d Charles Tooth. Other missions supported by St Mark’s were the Oxford Mission to Calcutta and the University mission to Central Africa.
1906 The ‘Commission of the Faithful’ or Trustees of St Mark’s purchased No. 16 Via Maggio for the church. The papers were signed by Charles Michell on their behalf although it is believed that the purchase was made possible through the generous bequest of Mr Thomas Brocklebank.The architect designed a new side chapel with seating for 60 people, a sacristy, storage rooms and an emergency exit to Via del Presto. The vestibule was also enlarged and the staircase built.
1911 Sunday Sung Mass was introduced.
1965 Holy Trinity Church (the other English Church in Florence) was sold to the Waldensians.
1966 Extensive flood damage to the interior of the church.
In 1891, the church was described by the English Church architect G.F.Bodley as “an almost perfect specimen of Renaissance work”. It has some important contributions from leading artists of the Victorian period. The decoration (much now lost) and accoutrements are in many ways a celebration of both the Pre-Raphaelite and Art and Crafts Movements whose ideals and principles might be said to have much in common with those of their contemporary, the Anglo-Catholic movement. The Lady Chapel for example, is an important feature in Anglo-Catholicism and any side chapel of this nature was unusual in an Anglican Church of this time. Names associated with both the Pre-Raphaelite and/or Arts and Crafts Movements and the Church of St. Mark’s Florence include John Roddam Spencer Stanhope; Holman Hunt; Bodley; William Morris (possibly through a pattern book rather than directly) and Giuseppe Catani Chiti. The well-known Pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt is also known to have had connections to Florence. St Mark’s Church received a communion set inscribed to the memory of Fanny Holman Hunt, his first wife who died here in childbirth in December 18…. The salver is inscribed to the son born October 18…and who survived.
Guide to St Mark’s:
(N.B. the compass points are given by a liturgical orientation, not geographical: the East end is where the high altar stands.)
This was given in memory of Maria Arabella Meller in 1895 and is in Italian Romanesque style, carved in white marble. It is still possible to see the brown watermark left by the floodwater of 1966.
The roundel of the Risen Christ above the High Altar is by Clayton & Bell c. 1885 and is given in memory of Sarah Piper who died May 1884.
The roundels in the west windows are English, c.1885 and are of Pre-Raphaelite praying angels in Bodley style patterned glass.
The High Altar is of white marble with an alabaster bas-relief front portraying a copy of Fra Angelico’s ‘Cenacolo’. It was a gift of the Misses Cavendish Bentinck. The Tabernacle is a later addition to the altar in ‘quattrocento’ style c.1920.
The Tryptych is the work of C. Jeffreys. The centre panel is of the Crucified Christ adored by St Mary Magdalene set in a Tuscan landscape. The left panel is of St Mark and Our Lady and the right panel is of St John the Evangelist and St George. It was a gift from the Misses Cavendish Bentinck and is dated at 1888.
This is designed by Bodley and Hare, c.1890 and is situated on the north wall of the Sanctuary. It was installed from Holy Trinity in 1970
This is of carved wood, donated in 1910 in memory of Justina Francis Hughes.
Venetian Hanging Lamps:
Individual members of St Mark’s gave the Venetian style sanctuary and hanging lamps in memory of their loved ones. The English woman, Emily Dowbiggen (Madame de Tchihatcheff) donated the seven lamps situated in front of the High Altar in 1887 in memory of her late husband, the Russian naturalist and geologist Pietri de Tchihatcheff (1812-1890).
The icon of the ‘Lady of Kazan’ situated on the north wall of the church was donated by Pietri de Tchihatcheff.
The icon of ‘St Mark’ situated on the north wall of the church is of the young St Mark and was painted by the Community of Ognissanti in Florence. It was commissioned by Fr. Lawrence MacLean, the present Chaplain and donated by the congregation and friends of St Mark’s. It was dedicated at the Patronal Festival in April 2003.
The icon of the ‘Virgin and Child’ in the Lady Chapel is Greek. It dates from 16th/17th century and is awaiting restoration.
Madonna & Child:
The small terracotta statue of the Madonna and Child in the Lady Chapel is thought to have been produced in one of the terracotta craft workshops of Impruneta.
The ‘Annunciation’ and ‘St Michael’ by Giuseppe Catani Chiti of Prato (born 1866) were both donated by Sir Thomas Dick Lauder (died 1919).
Brass Memorial Plaques:
There are several interesting brass plates around the church. On the left side of the aisle, on the pillar in front of the first pew is a small crucifix and brass plate in memory of Queen Sophie of Greece. On the opposite side of the aisle are various brass plates in memory of the Keppel family, the most famous being Alice Keppel mistress of King Edward Seventh and great grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles. Alice Keppel’s daughter Violet Trefusis is also remembered here.