By Michael Durnan
The church of Ss. Peter, Paul and Philomena stands overlooking the faded seaside resort of New Brighton located at the head of the Wirral Peninsula in northwest England. With its handsome classical cupola high above the transept, and standing atop a steep hill facing the sea, the church’s distinctive and recognisable profile is clearly visible from a great distance.
Safe from Nazi U-Boat Attacks
It was returning relieved and grateful sailors who ‘christened’ the church ‘The Dome of Home’. During World War Two, British merchant seamen, serving in Atlantic convoys bringing essential supplies from the USA and Canada, would know they were secure from the ever-present threat of German U-boat attack once the distinctive dome of the church was visible to the naked eye. Only then, would they know they, and their precious cargo, were safe and sound after their perilous journey home to the Port of Liverpool on the opposite bank of the River Mersey.
Inspired by the Beautiful Star of Lisbon
The Dome of Home was very much the vision and creation of Fr. Thomas Mullins who had been inspired by the beautiful design of The Estrela, or Basilica of The Sacred Heart in Lisbon, Portugal, whilst he was a seminarian at the English College there. His parish church of Ss. Peter, Paul and Philomena was finally opened in August 1935.
NO FUNDS AVAILABLE: The parish church continued to serve the parishioners of New Brighton until 2008 when it was forced to close because of costly essential repairs for which there were no funds available.
The future for this impressive landmark church looked bleak until 2011 when the present Bishop of Shrewsbury, + Mark Davies, made the courageous and imaginative decision establish The Dome of Home as a Shrine Church and to invite the Institute of Christ The King, Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) to take responsibility for its pastoral care.
THE DOME OF HOME IS THE VISION AND CREATION OF FATHER THOMAS MULLINS, inspired by the beautiful design of ‘The Estrela,’ or Basilica of The Sacred Heart in Lisbon, Portugal, whilst a seminarian at the English College there in the early 20th Century.
Leaky Building, Moribund Faith
Although The Dome of Home had been closed for only three years, the condition of the building had deteriorated even further as the result of the leaking roof which caused considerable damage to the interior. It fell to Canon Meney, the first Rector of the new Shrine Church, to ensure The Dome was made ready for use. Besides ensuring the Dome was fit to use, Canon Meney had to establish the sacramental and liturgical life of the Shrine according to the Traditional Latin Rite and to build up the congregation. In all of this he made great progress, so by the time that the present Rector, Canon Amaury Montjean, arrived just 12 months later in 2012, the Dome of Home had been established as a working Shrine Church.
VIEW FROM A LEAKY ROOF: In 2012, the most pressing concern was the roof which was leaking rainwater copiously into the main body of the church; however, there were no funds available to carry out the essential repairs.
As I discovered from Canon Montjean, when I met him recently at the Dome, there is still much work to be done to secure the long-term future of this impressive church. For Canon Montjean, the main goal on his arrival was simple, “to keep the Shrine open!”
Canon Montjean had been fully briefed by Canon Meney as to the progress that had been made but also the enormous amount of work that still needed to be undertaken.
Firstly, the most pressing concern was the roof which was still leaking copious amounts of rainwater into the main body of the church causing damage to interior, but there were no funds available to carry out the essential repairs necessary.
He also knew that the continuation and development of the sacramental and prayer life of The Dome was essential to the success of the more practical and worldly concerns. He needed to ensure that daily Mass, Confession and other devotions and liturgies were celebrated so to enable the growth of the congregation and faith life of The Shrine, as well as promote and publicise The Dome to visitors and pilgrims.
STANDING ROOM ONLY FOR THE INAUGURAL MASS of the newly-reopened Dome of Home in 2011.
Healing the Building, Building the Faith
Since his arrival in 2011, Canon Montjean, supported by The Restoration Committee and many others, has made a great deal of progress both to the church building and the faith life of the shrine. Repairs have been made to the leaking roof and west wall of the nave; a new Dome of Home website has been established; an impressive and sumptuous new guide book has been printed with over 1000 copies having been distributed to the public; and guided tours of The Dome by volunteers are now a regular occurrence.
THERE IS A NEWLY ESTABLISHED CHOIR SINGING PLAINCHANT at the Dome’s weekly Sunday High Mass and notable feast days.
EVERY FORTNIGHT THE DOME HOLDS CATECHISM CLASSES FOR ADULTS AND YOUNG PEOPLE; there’s a full day of continuous Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every first Thursday of the month and a Youth Group and Formation Group for married couples.
THE CONTINUATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE SACRAMENTAL AND PRAYER LIFE OF THE DOME remains essential to the success of the more practical concerns.
The Laity Step Up to the Plate
The involvement of the wider local community has also been a goal and priority in the development of the Dome as a Shrine Church open to the public every day from 8am to 8pm. The Shrine has been able to secure much-needed money from The Heritage Lottery Fund, and other sources, through the dedicated work of The Shrine Restoration Committee.
As well as meeting Canon Montjean, I had the pleasure to meet with Anne Archer, a former parishioner in pre-Shine days, but now an enthusiastic and committed attendee of the Shrine, who also sings in the choir and is heavily involved with the recently established Shrine Restoration Committee. Anne shared her experiences of her involvement with The Shrine, most notably her work with The Shrine Restoration Committee which helps to oversee the repair and restoration of The Shrine, especially securing the much-needed funding. Anne explained to me that, “The initial fundraising was urgently directed towards the considerable start-up costs that were needed to transform The Dome, after its long closure and neglect, into a fitting and usable place of worship and prayer; some things were missing or damaged, so needed repair or replacing. This proved a great challenge for the small, but growing congregation, but with people’s generosity, effort and prayer, this goal was achieved. Getting started and putting down roots really took time and effort!”
THE COMMITTEE ALSO PROMOTES THE DOME AS A PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE and as a visitor attraction and develops links with the local community, including civic bodies and dignitaries.
PRESENT AND PAST MAYORS AND MAYORESSES WERE INVITED TO THE DOME to see the results of the first restoration project, to take a guided tour of the Dome and meet with volunteers who have done so much to support and promote the Dome of Home as a Shrine Church.
The Workings of Providence
Anne remarked that, “Whenever we embarked on a new phase in The Dome restoration project, or encountered challenges and problems, the right people would providentially appear from nowhere!” with offers of practical help, skills, knowledge, advice and even large monetary donations. For example, during the winter of 2011-12, there was no heating in The Dome of Home, necessitating that the boilers be overhauled at considerable expense. By a remarkable coincidence, Anne reported with a smile, in that same week, a donation of similar size was made which providentially covered the cost.
GOD WILL PROVIDE: It seems whenever the Dome team arrive at a new phase in the restoration project or encounter challenges and problems, the right people ‘providentially appear from nowhere,’ offering practical help, skills, knowledge, advice and even large monetary donations.
MANY NON-CATHOLICS HAVE ALSO GIVEN THEIR SUPPORT TO THE DOME and some of those who have come to The Dome as curious visitors, or to offer their help, have been impressed and moved, not only by the beauty and glory of The Dome as an architectural gem, but also with the faith and spiritual riches they have discovered there. This has led some to seek instruction in the Catholic Faith.
There is still much to be done with the building restoration of the Dome of Home, but the most significant restoration of this remarkable landmark church by the Institute has been that of its life as a vibrant and vigorous place of Catholic worship.
A young university undergraduate student I encountered, has visited the Dome of Home on several occasions.
“Canon Montjean and the Institute of Christ The King, Sovereign Priest are building something really special at the Dome of Home,” he told me.
JUST AS THE DOME OF HOME HAD ONCE BEEN A REASSURING SYMBOL OF SAFETY AND HOPE for merchant seamen returning from their dangerous transatlantic wartime voyages, it has now become, in the words of Bishop Mark Davies, ‘A Beacon of Hope!’ for the Faith in England.
Long may it continue to shine its kindly light over The Wirral and its people.