St Raphael’s Architecture

St Raphael’s is one of the finest examples of Victorian Italianate architecture and is now on the Registered List of Buildings of historical and architectural interest.  

The traditional design consisted of nave, aisles and chancel, with walls made of Bath stone.  There is a square tower or campanile of three storeys projecting from the facade.  This West Tower, facing the River Thames, has a typical Victorian Italianate top enclosing a belfry, where originally two sweet bells would automatically chime the Angelus at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.  At the lower levels, the clock was made before 1770 by Henry Hindley and probably acquired from the Savile family in Yorkshire.  Below in the archway immediately above the main door is Alpha|Christ|Omega symbol embossed in the Bath stone.

The side aisles are covered by sloping roofs with windows that are all round-arched and decorated with so-called Venetian tracery.  The facade incorporates the fronts to the side aisles recessed behind the Tower.  The composition is given added prominence by further north and south wings which were originally the Priests’ House and also the School, with domestic accommodation.  The latter was named “Alexander House” in 2003 in honour of Alexander Raphael.

The interior is Renaissance, incorporating a range of graceful  Ionic arcade columns supporting semi-circular arches along a tall, narrow nave which has clerestory windows mounted high over the aisle roofs.

The whole of the sanctuary, the High Altar, the round pulpit and the baptismal font are made of white Sicilian marble. 

The richly stained glass windows above the High Altar depict three scenes:  the middle one shows young Tobias with the Angel Raphael, who was sent by God to help Tobias on the journey to Medes.  Beneath is the Coat of Arms of the Savile family.  On the left Jesus is shown in the Garden of Gethsemani, and on the right, the Angel Gabriel announcing to Our Lady that she is to be the Mother of God.  Under the eaves at the front of the church are six plaster statues that probably originated in Germany and are over 100 years old.  The three on the right aisle are of Our Lord, Our Lady Saint Joseph; the three on the left are of St Peter, St Paul and St John the Evangelist. 

The Organ

Sited in the choir loft, the organ was constructed by Bishop & Starr, appointed organ-builder to Her Majesty Queen Victoria.  It is still in reasonable working order today, though there has been some deterioration and some repair work is required. The organ is believed to have been played by Chopin and many other celebrated musicians.

The Crypt

Beneath the High Altar is the Savile family crypt, where the remains of Alexander Raphael lie in a brass-studded coffin.  Ten members of the Savile family are also interred there, together with Father Ainsworth, the first Parish Priest, who died on 20 January 1880, and most recently Canon Bernard Grady, Parish Priest from 1955 to 1987.  He died in February 1992.

St Raphael’s Catholic Church, street view. Image courtesy of Deacon Peter Sebastian.

St Raphael’s interior. Image courtesy of David Iliff