Saturday, 19 June 2021

Billionaire’s new chapel unveiled

BILLIONAIRE Swiss financier Urs Schwarzenbach has opened a chapel at Culham Court.

BILLIONAIRE Swiss financier Urs Schwarzenbach has opened a chapel at Culham Court.

The Roman Catholic chapel was consecrated by Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, at a ceremony attended by dozens of invited guests.

The service was also conducted by the Rt Rev Bishop Hudson, auxiliary bishop to the diocese of Westminster, Wargrave and Twyford’s parish priest Monsignor James Joyce, Monsignor Philip Whitmore, rector of the Venerable English College in Rome, Monsignor Anthony Wilcox, retired parish priest for Henley, and Father Alexander Sherbrook, parish priest of St Patrick’s Church in central London.

The choir of St Patrick’s sang music written specially for the occasion by Sir James Macmillan, a composer and former conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Guests included Sir William and Lady McAlpine, of Fawley Hill, and Lord and Lady Camoys, of Stonor Park.

Mr Schwarzenbach, 66, has been restoring the 650-acre estate near Aston since he bought it for £35million in 2007.

He began planning the chapel in the same year and secured planning permission from Wokingham Borough Council in 2012.

Before submitting his application he consulted the National Trust, which supported the design.

Since then he has also extended the estate’s 90-acre deer park, installed new fencing and added a ha-ha, a swimming pool extension and a mile-long driveway through Quarry Wood. The chapel is in the style of a classical temple with 18th century features and replaces Culham House, a Sixties brick-style building which sat on top of a mound at the front of the estate.

It was built by a predominantly British team of traditionally skilled craftsmen including stonemasons, joiners, metalworkers, mosaicists and plasterers.

The chapel bears a temple front as its motif with a small portico which people can gather under and a vestibule which leads down to an underground crypt. The outer building is constructed in flint and stone with a lead roof and sits atop the ha-ha, whose walls are also of flint. There are no aisles inside the chapel.

There are sculptures throughout, with four evangelists in bronze on the west front and nine smaller bronzes of sibyls on the flanking walls. There is also a bronze bell at the front.

The interior has a Graeco-Romanesque theme with a central, seated figure of Christ by Professor Alexander Stoddart, who is the Queen’s sculptor in ordinary for Scotland. Prof Stoddart will create additional pieces for the building over the coming years.

The chapel falls within the diocese of Portsmouth and is a chapel of ease, meaning local Catholic residents may visit to worship.

A website will be set up, giving details of mass times and other services. There will also be a series of community events.

Woody Clark, who oversaw the development, said “The ceremony was a solemn occasion and one that doesn’t happen very often as it’s now more usual for a place of worship to be deconsecrated. It was full of profound meaning, from the oiling of the altar to the handing over of the keys and the lighting of candles to symbolise the spreading light of the faith.

“This is the culmination of many years of planning and construction so it was a great relief to see it successfully completed.

“It was a remarkable undertaking and will hopefully be a source of pride for the area for hundreds of years.”

Lady McAlpine said: “We’re not going to see anything like this again in our lifetime.

“The project has given employment to so many talented artesans and the results have proven spectacular. It is a wonderful gesture and the building is beautiful and just perfect.”

Lord Camoys said: “It was a very holy ceremony indeed and the chapel is a beautiful building on a beautiful site. I’m sure it will be of tremendous value to the Catholic community.”

The council’s planning officers said the chapel would be “a rare investment into a piece of classical architecture which will be executed to the highest standards” and would make a positive contribution to the estate, which was likely to become a “significant heritage asset”.

Mr Schwarzenbach made his fortune from Interexchange, Switzerland’s largest foreign exchange dealership, with clients such as the Sultan of Brunei.

He moved to Britain in the Eighties and was a renowned polo player and friend of the royal family. In 2007 he bought Hambleden estate for £39million.

He has two grown up children with his wife Francesca, a former Miss Australia.

According to the 2015 Sunday Times Rich List, his net worth has increased from £860million to £1billion in the past 12 months.

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