30 September 2023

Our Lady of Victory and the Blavatnik School of Government

What a telling title: our Lady of Victory. So very Western Catholic; so Counter-Reformation ; so baroque; so redolent of the triumphalist Anglo-Catholicism of the 1920s and 1930s. When I was an undergraduate, the Church of S Paul up Walton Street was still a Church and did not yet have the gleaming rotundity of the Blavatnik School of Government looming over it. Inside, was a splendiferous statue of our Lady of Victory.

Our Lady of Victory ... You couldn't possibly imagine, could you, Byzantine Christians giving the Theotokos a title like that ...

Well, of course, they did. One of those Greeks did write a hymn to Mary as the hypermachos strategos with an aprosmakheton kratos (the Protecting General with an irresistible power). If the Orthodox had Hymns Ancient and Modern, you would probably find in it a paraphrase of the Hymnos Akathistos beginning: Stand up, stand up, for Mary. Or, taking my fantasy even further, imagine some Orthodox Sabine Baring Gould writing Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; with the Robe of Mary, going on before.

I think it was a great shame that Oxford's benefactor Mr Blavatnik, a gentleman of Russian heritage, was not encouraged to convert the remains of S Paul's, lately reduced to the status of a sort of night-club, into a Church attached to his school of Government, crowning it with a traditionally Russian dome, and dedicating it to the Hypermachos Strategos. I don't blame him personally; this University is now so horribly secularised.

East and West may wear different clothes, but their realities are often so uncannily similar. Because, of course, the title our Lady of Victory, just like the Akathist hymn, does have its military associations. That great Pontiff, S Pius V, established the Feast of our Lady of Victory to celebrate the triumph of Christian arms at the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, a victory won by the countless rosaries which clanked through the hands of the Rosary Confraternities of Western Europe.


  1. Dear Father. Not a few Faithful Catholics who live on the Craziest Continent have been to beautiful Old Quebec and have been blessed to pray in O.L.V.


    Years ago, ABS and The Bride used to drive the back roads to Mount Morency Falls, outside of Quebec City, and stop along the way where old women were selling huge slices of the fresh bread they had just baked in their ovens dug deep into the sides of the hills. And those warm bread slices were slathered with their home made butter.

    Lord have Mercy...

    That bread was simply amasing. However, like the Faith in Quebec, those old women and their ovens have disappeared.

  2. Father, I am interested in your comment that the Feast of the Holy Rosary may be celebrated on the Sunday in the Ordinary Form. I am eager to present this option to my pastor, however, the 'General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar,' list Sundays in Ordinary Time as ranking above Feasts, but not Solemnities, of the Blessed Virgin, according to the Table of Precedence. Is there something I am missing, or some other allowance? Interested to know, thank you.

  3. St. Paul's on Walton Street is now the Freud Café-Bar. The church was designed by Henry Jones Underwood in 1836, also the designer of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum Library. Apparently the café is not named after Sigmund Freud, but rather a former student of the Courtauld Insitute of Art, David Freud who opened the café. The religious stained glass and reredos murals have been maintained. Photographs of the bar-café showing café goers in such a setting seem incongruous at best.
    O tempora, o mores.

  4. I occasionally served Mass at St Paul's Walton Street in the fifties. Fr A.E. Wood was first the curate, and then vicar. It was very French baroque. The Masses were in Latin - at least, during the week. Fr Wood was a sensitive and charming priest, who walked round the parish in cloak and biretta. It was rather wonderful there. I was 'on pilgrimage' in Oxford a couple of years ago, but couldn't bear to re-visit St Paul's, knowing that it had gone for good. A Roman Catholic for many years, I still have thankful memories of those Oxford Anglo-Catholic churches.

  5. Being Jewish, Mr. Blavatnik indeed could not be blamed for not thinking about to annex a church to his sponsored institution.

  6. Dear Fr H.,

    Do favour us with more of your Orthodox HA&M inventions, please.

  7. A little bit of history of S. Paul's here

    I have a feeling some pieces (tabernacle?) went to Holy Trinity Reading when S.Paul's closed.

  8. We were speaking well of you with happy memories at tea after Festal Evensong at Lancing College this afternoon Father. I am glad to see you are still on good form!!
    (I have just moved back in retirement to Shoreham-by-Sea and am linking up with old friends again.)
    Fr Nick Mercer