The history of St Mark’s Chaplaincy in Italy
St. Mark’s English Church on the Via Maggio opened its doors for worship in 1881. From the outset, its purpose was to offer a subscription-free welcome to ‘tourist’ visitors to Florence. Designed by its founder Reverend Charles Tooth to glorify God and to offer a deeply spiritual liturgical experience with a great emphasis on the Sacrament of the Mass, preaching and mission, it also quickly attracted a ‘core’ congregation of residential English speaking ‘ex-pats’ who recognised and appreciated its Anglo-Catholic tradition and the Renaissance ‘air’ of its interior decoration. Inside a fifteenth century palazzo, the church glows with a rich dark vitality created a century ago by English and local artists whose work reflects the influential Pre-Raphaelite movement, although the stencilling on the interior walls, like so many Florentine treasures, was extensively damaged by the floods of 1966.
Today, the Church of England in Florence is an integral part of this post-modern city. St. Mark’s, like every church in the city, reflects the cultural diversity of an international, highly mobile, workforce and welcomes travellers from all over the world. Our ministers and members participate in the ecumenical and interfaith networks of which Florence is rightly proud. We are an integral part of our local community and increasingly, local people as well as tourists visit the church and join in the many events, concerts and opera performances that take place here throughout the year.
St. Mark’s was not the first Church of England congregation in Florence. The chaplaincy had its origins in the British delegation to the Court of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In the 1820s the British residents of Florence began to look for a place of their own in which to worship. By 1840 Holy Trinity Church had opened, quietly, discreetly and for non-Italian members of the Church of England only. Making converts from among the local population was strictly prohibited no matter how much the individuals themselves might desire it. After the unification of Italy, and the right to freedom of worship, the congregation subscribed to pay for the erection of the present Holy Trinity building in Via Lamarmora. In 1965 that building was sold to the Protestant Waldesian Church who own it today and St. Mark’s assumed the sole Church of England chaplaincy to Florence, with Siena. Today our chaplaincy also includes a congregation at Holy Cross, Bologna.