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Feb 28 Victorian Slum Priest Charles Lowder


Today we go back to year 1855 and the founding of the Society of the Holy Cross in Soho, London, by six Anglican priests lead by Charles Fuge Lowder. It soon became central to the Anglo-Catholic movement, which was stuttering in momentum after one of its instigators, John Henry Newman had been received into the Roman Catholic Church. The founder of the SSC, Charles Lowder was as one of the great Victorian Ritualist Slum priests and a fascinating character.


Lowder had two big influences on his life and vocation, John Henry Newman and Vincent de Paul. He became involved in the Oxford Movement which was centered around Newman and Edward Pusey, and as a young priest in Pimlico, at the church of St Barnabus, he was in the vanguard of the controversial Ritualist movement which re-emphasised rituals and liturgical ceremony in particular Holy Communion. Pimlico then was seen as a slum area, and Lowder noticed that the visual beauty in liturgical practice was attractive to the people he served. He said ‘the poor and uneducated are thus taught by the eye and ear, as well as by the understanding...... Surely those who know the trials and hardships of the working classes, the dreariness of their homes, the dark and cheerless surroundings of their work, cannot dent them of ..... Festival seasons duly observed; vestments, processions, lights, incense, choral services, flowers, pictures, music – grand hearty and inspiriting; the details of ceremonial carried out carefully and reverently;


After a visit to France he was inspired by the work of St Vincent de Paul and particular the Lazarists, the order the Catholic priest had founded. He was impressed with their mutual support, inspired by the vision of a disciplined priestly life and though of starting a similar order of Anglican priests based on a rule of life, and thus the SSC was born. The society expanded almost immediately, focused on some of the poorest slum areas of London and other cities in areas that were so notorious that it was difficult to get bishops to visit them. A year after founding the SSC, Lowder was invited by the rector to become head of the mission at St George's-in-the-East at the centre of the London Docks. His reputation grew locally when he stayed in Wapping during the cholera outbreak of 1866, unlike other minister who fled to safety.