Built at the end of the 13th century, St Etheldreda’s is the only surviving part of Ely Palace, the extensive London residence of the Bishops of Ely, whose buildings and gardens covered some 58 acres in and around Holborn during the Tudor period. Henry VIII and Katharine of Aragon are believed to have worshipped at what was then the Bishop’s private chapel during a five-day visit, as guests of Bishop Nicholas West, in 1531.
Much of the palace and gardens were destroyed during Cromwell’s Commonwealth (1649 – 1660). The property was sold in the late eighteenth century and in the late nineteenth century, after a variety of owners and uses, it was purchased by Father William Lockhart who restored the chapel to its medieval form and, in 1878, Catholic Mass was celebrated again, for the first time in over 200 years. Statues of eight Catholic martyrs from the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I - St John Houghton (1535), Blessed John Forest (1538), St Margaret Ward (1588), Blessed John Roche (1588), Blessed Edward Jones (1590), St Swithin Wells (1591), St Edmund Jennings (1591) and St Anne Line (1601) - were installed during the 1960s.
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