History of the Church of the Holy Family

Holy Family Church, Heath End, Farnham

by Father David A. Buckley MA. FRSA.

The early history  of the Church of the Holy Family is the history St. Joan’s (formerly St. Polycarp’s) Farnham. After the  Second  World War,  Mass was said regularly at Parkside, the home of the Wright family. By the 1950s the numbers attending mass had become too  great to be  accommodated at Parkside and plans had to be made to build a church.

In 1953 Raphael  Sergent   gave  the  land  in  Alma Lane by Deed of Transfer for the building of a church. A simple chapel was opened in March 1954 and this was doubled in size in 1971 to create the church as we see it today when the second half of the church, the steeple and the hall were added. The architects were Batchelor, Stabbings & Partners of Farnham. The incorporation of the  original chapel restricted their opportunity for a totally new design.

Holy Family Catholic ChurchThe church was built in the architecturally austere years that followed the Second World War when the availability of building materials and funds were limited as the United Kingdom faced the  challenge of recovering from the war. Despite the difficulties of the time, the local community managed to build a plain – but dignified – church for the growing Catholic population in the Heath End area.


The Lady Chapel within Holy Family

In 1967 the Lady Chapel was added. The carved wooden statue of Mary with the child Jesus has a lead seal in its’ base which tells us that it was carved in Italy. The carver, who is unknown to us, left his mark on the base of the statue,  all we have to remember him by now are his initials (DVR). Mary is depicted unusually offering an apple to Jesus, a symbol of Mary healing the ambition of the Old Testament figure Eve. The attractive Lady Chapel also contains two stained glass windows designed by Moira Forsyth; one of the works is of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary when he conveyed God’s wish that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus and the other shows Mary responding to the angel’s visit.

Christus Rex cross on Holy Family roof trusses

Christus Rex cross on Holy Family roof trusses

In the roof just before the Sanctuary steps, suspended from  the beams, is a very beautifully carved ‘Christus Rex’ (Christ the King) Cross which reminds us that Christ our High Priest invites us to share his life in the Holy Eucharist. The carvings either side of the wall pillars form the ‘ Way of the Cross’, they are carved  in linden wood (the wood traditionally believed to have been used for the cross of Christ) and represent the journey of Jesus to Calvary on Good Friday.  They were carved in Italy in the 1950s.

Although the church is a very simple structure it is home to some very special works of art.  Moira Forsyth (1905 – 1991) a well known artist in stained glass lived in Farnham.  Her work is highly praised in many artistic and academic publications which describe her as ‘one of England’s most notable stained glass artists’. She designed stained glass windows for many famous locations including Guildford Cathedral and Norwich Cathedral. Several experts say that her finest work was achieved for the little church of the Holy Family at Heath End where she worshiped when she lived in Farnham.  Moira designed fourteen stained glass windows for the Holy Family church, perhaps her greatest achievement in stained glass is the large Epiphany window behind the altar of Our Lady with the child Jesus (height 144 ins x  width 89 ins) and the Last Supper Window.

On the south side of the Holy Family church (the side which faces Alma Lane) there is a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus (Matt: 1 v 18-24). St Joseph is also the patron of Christian fathers. The delicately carved wooden statue reminds us that St. Joseph worked with wood as a carpenter.

The Church is very lucky to have these important artistic gems;  perhaps the simple architecture of the church of the Holy Family is the most suitable setting for such impressive and beautiful works of art.

The Stone Altar is a symbol of the tomb of Christ.

Holy Family Altar

Holy Family Altar

Relics of Saints Lucentis and Gratiae, early Christian Saints from the Catacombs in Rome, were sealed in the Altar Stone at Holy Family Church on 30th May 1956 by Archbishop Cyril Cowderoy to remind us that those who bore witness to Christ and his Gospel now share in his resurrection.