History of All Saints’

History of All Saints’ Church in Milan

(Compiled in April 1985 from notes of Mr W de Haan, Mr W P Churchward, Revd John Castle, Toby Baumann & others)

Finding a Site

The font, pews and some of the wall tablets come from an old chapel which formed part of the Church of San Giovanni in Conca which Anglicans in Milan were give the use of in the 1860s-1870s. It was a “dark, damp and dismal” building, lit by flickering candles, and when in 1879 the Comune of Milan decided to demolish it to make way for street improvements in Piazza Missori, the congregation had no settled place of worship.

For the next 17 years, services were held in hotels and lecture halls whilst funds were being raised to buy a building, or at least a site on which to build. Successive chaplains came and went before the present site was found in April 1896 by Mr W P Churchward – “an indefatigable churchwarden” and “moving spirit” in the words of William de Haan. It was just across the road from the former British Vice-Consulate at number 24 Via Solferino.

Part of an Old Granary

The lease on a piece of land that belonged to the Comune, now 17 Via Solferino, was about to expire and the proposal was made by Mr Henry Moll, of a previous generation to Alexander and Marina Moll who attended the church today, should join Mr Churchward and Mr de Haan in negotiating a purchase. The price of 80 Lire per square metre was agreed which meant finding 42,000 Lire at a time when there were 20 Lire to one gold Pound. It was too good an opportunity to let slip. Building was started almost at once incorporating part of an old granary, and so rapidly did the work proceed that the church was opened and dedicated on All Saints’ Day in 1896.

Under the Jurisdiction of Canterbury

Consecration did not however take place in that year. The building contractors had still to be paid the sum of 16,250 Lire, and it was not until October 1909 that the Rt Revd W E Collins, Bishop of Gibraltar, came to Milan to consecrate “the ground and building and all things appertaining”. At first vested in the Bishop of London, then in the See of Fulham & Gibraltar, the property now belongs to the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe and so comes under the jurisdiction of Canterbury. It is in the 44th Diocese of the Church of England.

In the early days, the entrance was by the central doors in the North wall and by another door in the West wall. There have been minor changes since then, but the little building still retains something of that pre-1914 look of Anglican churches in the Victorian era. Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, was one of the supporters of appeals to pay off the initial cost: perhaps with the thought in mind that her husband, Prince Henry of Battenburg, who died at sea in the same year that All Saints’ was opened, was born in Milan. His two brothers, Louis and Alexander, also spent their very early childhood in Milan, Alexander having been held at baptism by Field Marshal Radetsky (1766-1858). Distant days but brought the nearer when one recalls that the other brother, Prince Louis of Battenberg, was father of the late Earl Mountbatten.

Between the two World Wars

The last chaplain before the outbreak of WWI died in England in the summer of 1914. No replacement was appointed and lay services were held on Sunday mornings until Armistice came and the Revd Percy F Simpson was installed. At about the same time a group of choristers was mustered, but they have long dispersed and we now have a full choir trained by Vivienne Greenwood Pagliai, who has been organist at the church for the past 20 years.

In the 1920s discussions centred on enlargements to the sanctuary in the form of an apse with stained glass windows. From the street the church, in its rather cramped courtyard, looked foreshortened and incomplete. Towards the end of the decade the church committee was ready and the apse and three windows were added. It was intended to remove the glass when war came in 1940 and the church passed into the care, first of the US Consulate-General , then of the Swiss. But the decision was delayed. “The explosion of a bomb shattered all the windows and caused considerable damage besides”. Incendiary bombs showered through the roof but did not ignite. The windows were replaced by Cdr W P Evans who fell in battle during the first landings in Normandy in June 1944. They depict the Transfiguration and, on the right, St Ambrose, patron saint of Milan.

Having been closed for 5 years All Saints’ reopened in April 1945 as garrison church to the Allies. British and American soldiers gave practical help by repairing some of the damage and by contributing to the cost of repairs. The 19th century Roman pulpit, donated at Christmas 1933 by one of the Moll family “in memory of his children who worshipped in the church”, had survived. So had the wooden altar and four decorative posts which accompanied it to commemorate William and Emma de Haan. A gift of prayer desks and chairs in memory of Frank and Belle Baumann is also recorded. The screen between the organ keyboards and the congregation was erected by common consent to prevent the recurrence of an incident where a certain highly-strung organist fell over backwards into the body of the church!

Building above the Church

By Canon Law of the Church of England (C18,F4) any alteration to church property must be authorised by the Bishop of the Diocese by a “faculty”. For instance the erection of the royal arms on the North wall and the 5 flags and large board displaying names of chaplains and wardens on the West wall – the gift of Cdr W P Evans – would have required licensed assent. But it is also known for the Bishop himself to suggest innovations, as happened in the early 1960s, when Bishop Eley was the Ordinary.

During one of his visits to Milan the problem for suitable accommodation for the chaplain came under review. “Why don’t you build a flat over the church?” asked the Bishop and the seed brought forth fruit. An Italian architect was found who designed a flat and church hall with stairs leading up to it. British business people funded the project and by 1965 Bishop Eley was back to install Canon Duncan as Chaplain and to see him and his wife comfortably settled in the “upper rooms” high above the chancel floor.

One of the “moving spirits” behind this scheme was Sir James Henderson, head of Cucirini Coats, in whose memory the sanctuary was restored shortly after his death in 1967. Beneath the hymn board there is a plaque to him and his wife Hedwig who lived to be 94.  Nearby stands a handsome lectern given by Ralph and Elise Dexter, as were the communion rails and altar candlesticks. Their son Edward (Ted) Dexter CBE (1935-2021) was once captain of the Sussex and English cricket teams.

The sanctuary lamp, donated at about the same time as the lectern, is in memory of a former Bishop of Gibraltar, the Rt Revd Douglas Horsley and the new stone altar commemorates David James, former churchwarden who died tragically by fire. Another sad accident is recorded on the copper lid of the font, which bears the names of Edith and Harris Gray “who died in a tragic air disaster on 23 December 1956”.

Repairs & Maintenance

Rising damp is a recurring problem in many old buildings in Italy and the perimeter walls of All Saints’ have not escaped this menace. It was particularly marked in 1977 when the Revd Malcolm Bradshaw came here as a young chaplain and the decision was taken to tackle it. In the following year a damp course was put in by Peter Cox which entailed drilling the base wall at 30cm intervals and injecting a chemical treatment, mercifully with satisfactory results. Between 1987 and 1982 repair works and maintenance were carried out both to the inside and the outside as well as to the chaplain’s flat. Damage to the paintwork was made good, convector heaters were installed, the terrace was waterproofed and the eaves overlaid with copper. A major fundraising effort by the congregation and friends of All Saints’ brought in 60 million Lire to meet these exceptional costs, and this was topped up by a welcome donation of 2,000 Lire from the Diocese. The premises were thus restored to the acceptable condition we consider them to be in today (1985).

The Episcopalian Connection

The impetus accompanying these recent efforts has not run out of steam. It is strong enough to ensure that the full cost of maintaining a chaplaincy and keeping its premises in good repair is borne by the community. That certainly is strengthened by the generosity of Americans who worship at All Saints’ by virtue of the Episcopalian connection. The Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA), with its Bishop in Paris, has no church in Milan. Its followers now come to us for services which scarcely differ from those they are used to at home, and with them come others of various denominations of the Christian brotherhood. We welcome them not because the Anglican church expects to be all things to all men but because true Christians – our many Catholic friends included – are eager to share in that ecumenical fellowship which this little church seeks to promote.

[Printed on the occasion of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to All Saints’ Church, Milan, by the Corriere della Sera, whose editorial and publishing offices are located nearby in Via Solferino.]