St Etheldreda

St Etheldreda’s is the oldest Catholic church in England and one of only two remaining buildings in London from the reign of Edward I.

Holborn, Greater London

Opening times

The church is open every day, with regular Mass in English and Latin.
Monday to Saturday: 8am to 5pm.
Sunday: 8am to 12.30pm.


Ely Place
Greater London

The church was built in 1290 by John De Kirkeby, Bishop of Ely. It is here that Shakespeare has John O’Gaunt making one of the finest speeches in the English language; ‘This blessed plot, this Earth, this realm, this England’. 

After the Reformation, Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy declared him Supreme Head of the Church of England. Refusal to take an oath of allegiance was treason and many Catholics were arrested and executed. Thomas More was imprisoned in the church tower, the cell remains as it was 400 years ago.

After Henry’s death the men behind the throne set about destroying Catholic belief and practices. The mass was abolished, replaced by the Book of Common Prayer.

In 1620, the Spanish Ambassador moved into Ely Place. An ambassadors residence is part of the country they represent. To hear mass was punishable by death for English Catholics but they flocked to St Etheldreda’s.

In 1666 the Great Fire of London swept through the city, destroying everything in its path until it reached St Etheldreda’s. The wind changed and the ancient church was saved.

In 1829, the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed and it was no longer illegal to say mass. For Charles Dickens, the slums surrounding St Etheldreda’s became his own. It was to Saffron Hill that the Artful Dodger took Oliver Twist and to Ely Place that David Copperfield went to visit Agnes.

In December 1873 the chapel was bought by the Rosminians, and Father Lockhart launched a restoration appeal. As part of work in the crypt 18 burials were found, bodies from the Fatal Vespers of 1623.

The church was restored with the splendour intended by its medieval builders. The ceiling was removed to reveal the medieval roof intact.

St Etheldreda’s is a busy parish. It is part of our national heritage and is used daily for the purpose for which it was built over 700 years ago.

  • Spectacular stained glass

  • Social heritage stories

  • National heritage here

  • Magnificent memorials

  • Glorious furnishings

  • Famous connections

  • Captivating architecture

  • Walkers & cyclists welcome

  • Parking within 250m

  • On street parking at church

  • Level access to the main areas

  • Dog friendly

  • Café within 500m

  • Bus stop within 100m

  • Roman Catholic Church

Contact information

Other nearby churches

St Andrew

Holborn, Greater London

A site of worship for at least 1000 years, but when the crypt was excavated Roman remains were found so the site could have been in use for much longer still.

St Bartholomew the Great

Smithfield, Greater London

There are very few historic places in London where the early medieval period is so beautifully preserved as at St Bartholomew the Great, even entry to the church is through a 13th century arch with a half timbered gatehouse.

St Sepulchre without Newgate

Holborn, Greater London

There has been a church on this site since Saxon times, but the present building dates from 1450.