This piece appeared this week in the quarterly newsletter of the Anglican Military Ordinariate (aka Canadian Forces Anglican Chaplains). Since I edit the AMO newsletter, this publication is no great distinction.
Worship is a big part of tourism for me. I like the experience of the different, but also enjoy the sense that the Anglican Communion gives me a spiritual home wherever I go. In this case, it was a gracious and historic Anglican expat church in Firenze (Florence), Italy, a city which may be my new favourite place in the world. MP+
The last edition of this Newsletter featured an account of Ann Bourke’s visit to Camposanto Teutonic, the chapel of the Swiss Guards at the Vatican. I would like to suggest another destination for any readers fortunate enough to visit Italy, St. Mark’s (The English Church), Florence.
The English were once the most prominent foreign community in Florence, and St. Mark’s is the city’s second oldest Anglican church, founded as part of the Anglo-Catholic movement of the 19th century. Today it continues to serve the expatriate community and all English-speaking visitors to Florence. St. Mark’s is part of a chaplaincy of the Church of England in Tuscany that includes two other churches in Siena and Bologna, and is also home to an Old Catholic congregation.
The current chaplain is LCol. (retd.) William Lister, a former British Army padre. I asked Father Lister how his ministry in Tuscany compared to his experience as a military chaplain. He told me that “Florence has been an enormous blessing. It is not dissimilar to military chaplaincy in many ways - it is a discrete, ex-pat community - largely from Commonwealth countries and many with a military background. It is very much a 'chaplaincy'. We are a 'gathered community' joined by any and all English-speakers who find themselves in Tuscany/Emilia Romana (including both tourists and students).”
The church is located within a palazzo dating from the 16th century. From the street, St. Mark’s is not especially noteworthy, but the interior is calm and serene. The artwork is quite lovely, and much of it, as Fr. Lister told me, was contributed by the first members of the congregation, many of them leading figures in the 19th century’s Pre-Raphaelite movement. Today St. Mark’s maintains a strong liturgical tradition and is a centre of the local arts scene, particularly music, opera, and painting.
St. Mark’s has a strong connection with the military, in that the interior contains two stone memorials commemorating members of the British Army who fell during operations to break the German Gothic Line during the Italian Campaign. Many of these men are buried just outside Florence in the Commonwealth Cemetery at Girone, including over 30 Canadians. Our own Padre Don Aitchison, chaplain to Toronto’s 48th Highlanders, tells me that he will likely be travelling to St. Mark’s later this year along with the 48th’s Honourary Colonel and other members to dedicate a memorial to the regiment’s fallen. That dedication is planned for All Soul’s Day, and Padre Aitchison has promised an account of that trip for a subsequent AMO newsletter.
St. Mark’s maintains a number of apartments for short and long-term visitors, which would make an ideal base camp for a visit to Florence. Details may be found on the church website. St. Mark’s also features in Love and War, a new novel by the British author, Alex Preston, published by Faber. Fr. Lister tells me that the novel’s hero is an Anglican priest and secret agent, which makes this sound like an irresistible read for the remainder of the summer, even if the Telegraph didn’t particularly like it..