London Drum

Brompton Oratory – The Immaculate Heart Of Mary

Brompton Oratory
Where? Brompton Oratory, 215 Brompton Road, South Kensington · Web: Opening times? Usually 7 AM to 7 PM (Mon-Sat); 8 AM to 8 PM (Sun) Visiting hours may change Price? Free Time required? A typical visit is 30 mins Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 14, 74, 414, C1 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is South Kensington Circle District Piccadilly Train fares

Craig’s review… It’s darker in here than it is outside, and it’s night outside. I’m sitting in the pews staring up at the altar wondering if there’s anybody home. Give me a sign! Make the candles flicker on and off or something. Two thousand years ago he was curing lepers and turning water into wine, and now he can’t even huff and puff a candle out. If I were God I would be going on TV every Saturday night just to prove that I still exist. But he doesn’t seem to care anymore. He has lost interest in us. If we believe, we believe, and if we don’t, he doesn’t care – he’s run out of sons to spread the word. We bumped off the last one, so you can’t blame him.

This church is beautiful, and any description I give here is not going to do it justice. If there ever comes a day when I need to find God, then this is the first place I’ll start looking. St. Paul’s Cathedral is all airy and bright inside, but this place is dim and dark and that’s how a church should be. The dead don’t want to sleep in the sunlight, they want somewhere like this. Somewhere that doesn’t hurt their dried-up eyes.

I hate to think how much money they must have lavished on this place. There’s gold, for sure, but that’s not what makes it memorable. It’s all dark, sooty stone and dirty dull creams. A bit of blue, too – the same colour as a storm. Imagine a grey sky rolling in with rumbling thunder and enough wind and rain to end the world… that’s the colour of this place. The only light that I can find is coming from a few circular windows in the ceiling and the rest is just a rack of candles in the chapels.

Wear-worn faces are staring down at me everywhere I look: on the statues, the mosaics and paintings, and even on the wooden carvings by the stall. But if they’re trying to tell me something then they’re wasting their time because I’m a non-believer. The only person worth listening to in here is me. I reckon that’s why people sit in here for hours on end, just to have a chat with the only person who cares: themselves.

There’s an old woman kneeling in the side chapel praying for something she wants God to sort out. Put ten pence in the collection box and he’ll do whatever you want. And light a candle too – make a wish, like a kid blowing out the candles on his birthday cake. The statue of Jesus just looks down at her with his stone eyes and stony face, deaf and dead. She’d be better off asking me to fix whatever problems she’s got. God never used to answer my prayers. He only answers your prayers if you’ve already provided the answers in the first place, but that’s only fair, isn’t it? You’ve got to help yourself to help yourself in this world – he’s not a miracle worker.

I can hear the sound of footsteps walking up the aisle behind me but they’ve just come in for a ten-second gander. The only other sound that pervades the place is a quiet rumble around the room like distant traffic. It must be coming down the Brompton Road and straight in through the letterbox. It’s a bit like those pigeons that fly inside Waterloo station and can’t get out: the sound has found its way inside and can’t escape. I’m thinking of having a quiet cough, just to leave my mark on the place. Make a noise in here and it settles like dust for a hundred years.

I’ve just noticed one of those confessional boxes off to the side with the bright light switched on. I remember being shoved inside one of those when I was a kid. I can’t remember exactly what I did (I used to make my sins up just to keep him happy, because I was never naughty), but I do remember the punishment: five Hail Marys. That’s not much of a punishment is it? If they started handing out proper sentences then maybe people would stop sinning. If I was a priest and somebody admitted to stealing a biscuit I would knock his teeth out. Let’s see you try and eat a biscuit with no teeth, I would say! They’d soon stop doing that. Do you know what a priest’s problem is? He is too forgiving. Not everyone in the world is worth saving. (I’d make a lousy priest!)

There are four little chapels up the sides of the nave and they are all beautiful in their own right, and definitely worth a look. They’ve all got a little altar to some saint I don’t know, staring down at a rack of wax candles. I’m sure they have an important story to tell, but their secret meanings are lost on me. Churches are full of interesting architectural and literary references but I am basically too lazy to learn. I will learn when I have to: on my death bed. I will do some last-minute swotting up before the big exam and try and blag my way into heaven.

A little kid is kneeling in front of one of the statues still dressed up in his school uniform and shoes. He only looks about eight years old and his mum is watching and gently nudging him, making sure that he does it properly. Does he genuinely believe in Jesus? Kids will believe anything that their mothers tell them is true – even Father Christmas – so why wouldn’t he believe in Jesus? But thirty years from now he’ll be sitting where I am. And thirty years after that we’ll both be buried in the floor.

Worth a visit? Value for money? freeGood for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Southwark Cathedral (take a tube journey from South Kensington to London Bridge); St. Paul’s Cathedral (take a tube journey from South Kensington to St Pauls); Westminster Abbey (catch a tube from South Kensington to Westminster) and Westminster Cathedral (walk it in 28 mins or travel from South Kensington to Victoria by tube)

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Simon Do you have the mass times?

Craig Hi Simon. A list of mass times at the Brompton Oratory can be found here -

Will Hi, do you have to pay to go inside like St Pauls

Craig Hi Will. No, it's free to look inside. I often just pop in to have a quick look when I'm doing the Natural History Museum or V&A

Patrick mc clure Hi Craig visited brompton oratory last week 26august what a beautiful church and thanks to your brilliant review I would never have known about this great church. Yours patrick

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