St Peter’s, Siena

A short history

Though St Peter’s Church in Siena dates from 1909, as early as 1841 a formidable woman called Lady Olivia Bernhard Sparrow headed a small group of Anglican worshippers in the city. She was a strong evangelical, a friend of William Wilberforce and a rich widow who from her house at Brampton Park in England dominated the social life and the works of Huntingdonshire. In the early autumn of 1841, she, her daughter Lady Manderville (later Duchess of Manchester) and other members of the aristocracy, led 24 British families to pay for the expenses of regular services, held in Count Venturi’s palazzo near San Domenico.

Some twenty years earlier Lady Olivia had spent a holiday in Nice handing out tracts aimed at converting the inhabitants to Protestantism. She seemed to have mellowed by 1841 for the congregation agreed “in order to conciliate the natives of the Grand Duchy (of Tuscany) amidst whom we thus openly profess our faith” to devolve a certain amount of alms to Sienese charity organisations as well as to unnamed “Sunday English Poor” perhaps former servants who married Italians and had fallen on hard times.

The 1848 revolution which was followed by severe economic depression and cholera epidemic had driven away the British community. Gaps in the documentation make it difficult to know when services resumed. They were however going by 1887. For the next twenty years services are recorded with occasional gaps and generally for shorts seasons, they were held in a hotel or pensione. At this period spring was the favourite season. In 1904 after Easter for instance the Archbishop of Canterbury was present at morning services.

In 1907 a Church building fund was promoted by Mrs Georgina Allison Hignett and her two daughters Signore Piccinino and Bruchi both married to Sienese professional men. Daily service became possible from September 1907 – but still held in a pensione. In March 1908 land was bought in Via Garibaldi in the name of the society for the propagation of the Gospel and on April 18 1909 services were held for the first time in the newly built Church. Building work had taken a year, the cost 35000 lire. The present east window a replacement for the original one, was dedicated in 1913. Mrs Hignett daughters donated the window as a memorial to their late mother. Chaplains served only two or three years each, except for the time during the First World War when there was a 6 year period of one and the same priest.

From the late 1920s the number of British residents in Siena began to decrease, the reasons being unclear – although from 1931 the pound sterling had been devaluated and money didn’t stretch as far as it used to.

With the outbreak of the Second World War everyone went home except Signora Bruchi – she stayed on, taking care of the Church building. After allied troops entered Siena on the 3rd of July 1944, services where held on a daily basis until they left in 1947. Meanwhile, Signora Bruchi opened her house to musical Sunday parties. Plaques in the Church commemorate both the liberation and Signora Bruchi’s work. On the departure of the troops St Peter became once again a seasonal Church.

In 1976 the Ven. J.W. Evans, Archdeacon of Malta and Chaplain of St Mark’s and St Peter,’s brought together a regular congregation and monthly Eucharist. After long anticipated repairs on the Church roof and additional funding for a permanent part-time priest, the Church was reopened with a Celebratory Mass on Easter Monday 2005 by Bishop David Hamid, the Suffragen Bishop of Europe.