TAUNTON CATHOLIC CHURCH  

One God, One Family, One Community

History page 2

St. George’s Church

 

In 1853, Canon John Mitchell, a man of dynamism and charisma, forceful personality and vigorous beliefs arrived at St. George’s, and found that the congregation had outgrown the Chapel in The Crescent.  He was to serve Taunton until his death in 1899.

 

A new Church was required, and as far as the Canon was concerned, nothing but the best would do.  The Franciscan community at the nearby Convent very generously gave a plot of rising land, adjoining their own grounds, and Benjamin Bucknall was commissioned as Architect.  Canon Mitchell had what were thought to be very grandiose ideas about the Church, including the building of a spire to rival that of Salisbury!

 

Against a national and local background of “No Popery”, he forged ahead with fund raising, and although he had to settle for a commanding tower rather than a soaring spire,  he gave today’s congregation an inspiring Church in Monkton stone with Bath stone dressings.  The cost of the Church and the handsome Rectory, excluding the site, carvings and fittings was estimated to be £6,000.  The old Chapel was later sold for £550.

 

The foundation stone was laid on 19th August 1858, and the Church was built and used within one year, the official opening ceremony taking place on 24th April 1860.  It was not to be fully completed, paid for and consecrated until 1912, when on St. George’s Day, 23rd April a memorable ceremony took place.  Canon Mitchell whose vision and dynamism had inspired the building of this magnificent Church, died in 1899, aged 89 years.

 

The Parish flourished during the first half of the 20thC. Daughter Churches/Mass Centres were opened in Chard, Wellington, Crewkerne, Ilminster and Wiveliscombe.

 

In 1959 (see below) there opened in Taunton a second Catholic Church, St. Teresa of Lisieux, which is an integral part of the Taunton Catholic community.  Much of this expansion in and around Taunton took place during the incumbency of Mgr Richard Iles  -  1927 to 1967.

 

St. George’s Church itself did not stand still.  In the first half of the 20thC. further stained glass windows were added to complement the huge and brilliant 19thC. East window with its dominating central figures of Our Lady and St. George, plus Saints Dunstan, Joseph of Arimathea, Walburga and Boniface, all of whom have historical or legendary connections with the West Country.

 

In 1967, Fr. Patrick Lynch from St. Teresa’s was appointed Rector; he became a dominant figure in the Taunton community and was to serve the Parish with great distinction until he retired in 2000.  Major Church repairs were carried out, and then in 1970, to meet the requirements of Vatican II the Sanctuary was reconstructed with great sensitivity.  The altar table was moved forward while preserving the Gothic reredos with its outstanding carved figures.  New Stations of the Cross tell the Passion Story with great power.  The figures, up to two metres high, were designed and sculpted by Tom Preater, a local Anglican; they are breathtaking in their beauty and sadness.  In 1991 a spacious Parish Centre was built in the Church grounds.  

 

St. Teresa of Lisieux

 

In 1959, Taunton’s second Catholic Church was opened.  Previously, in 1954 Mgr Iles and some Catholic laymen had been deeply involved in the twinning of Taunton with Lisieux.  An additional Church was required in the expanding Town, and with great consideration for the community it was dedicated to St. Teresa of Lisieux.  It is an airy, light and beautiful Church, fitting happily into the modern housing around it.  Its first Parish Priest was Fr. Patrick Lynch, who in 1967, on the resignation of Mgr. Iles, due to ill health, became the Rector of St. George’s.

 

In 2009 the 50th Anniversary Celebrations were greatly enhanced by a major spiritual event.  The Relics of St. Teresa of Lisieux toured Britain, and Taunton was privileged in September to receive them in St. Teresa’s Church.  Parishioners and visitors from afar, joined  Bishop Declan of Clifton for veneration and celebration

 

 

 

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