One would never think, while walking down Oxford Street, passing in front of Bond Street station and its array of shops, turning sharply onto Duke Street with its Pure Waffle and Spaghetti House, to find on the opposite side of the road: The Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile (УКРАЇНСЬКА КАТОЛИЦЬКА КАТЕДРА “ПРЕСВ. СКИТАЛЬЧОЇ РОДИНИ” y Лондоні, Апостольський екзархат у Великобританії ), a Ukrainian church. While one might find this funny or unusual, it is quite the inverse, with over 10,000 follower of the Church in the UK and with most Ukrainians or descendants located mainly in Manchester and London, we quickly realise that a close, but not very often seen, Ukrainian community exists, and that this Church at the Centre of the Capital isn’t so odd after all. However, before being the place of practice of Ukrainian Greek Catholic faith, it was once a time the King’s Weigh House, designed in 1891 by Alfred Waterhouse (designer of the Natural History Museum and Manchester Town Hall), representing a valuable piece of Victorian Architecture.
Before, Ukrainians in London would practice their faith at Saffron Hill, at the church of St.Theodore of Canterbury, from 1948 till 1967, and in 1967 The Ukrainian Catholics acquired the church and installed an iconostasis designed by Wasyl Borecky. That same year, the good old Saturday school, that makes children smile with joy and laughter at the thought of waking up early in the morning and going to school on a SATURDAY, started. It also became the parish church of London. Today, it has become a place where all the Ukrainians in London go, with the number ranging to the near thousand during religious seasons ( Christmas, Easter). The church is faithful to its peoples origin and mass is practice in Ukrainian, in accordance to Byzantine rite, with religious festivals celebrated according to Julian Calendar, which are 13 days later than in the western tradition. Given its representation of Ukrainians in the UK and for some a home when lost, it also serves as a place of Ukrainian culture, sometimes concerts of Ukrainian folk and classical music are played. Most significantly, annually Ukraine’s top professional male choir: Boyan ensemble of Kyiv come to play.
This little church at the corner of Oxford Street, one of the busiest roads in London, shows us once more how multicultural and acceptant London is, but also even if London is such a booming city, small things like this have there place.
By Simon Frearson