Ss Peter & Paul, Brailes is in the upper storey of a medieval malt barn attached to the Old Rectory Farm. It is one of the oldest post Reformation public Catholic churches in England
The Rectory Farm, dating from the mid-16th century, belonged to the Augustinian friars of Kenilworth who leased it to John Bishop. After the Dissolution, he bought the farm and established a secret Mass centre in the attic. There was a priest’s hide in the house. John’s eldest son, William, was born there in 1554 and educated at the clandestine Catholic school in the village. William studied for a time in Oxford and then, along with many Catholic exiles, went to the continent. He was ordained a priest at Laon in France in 1583 and probably served in Brailes but was subsequently exiled to France where he studied at the Sorbonne. A noted controversialist and writer, he was consecrated titular Bishop of Chalcedon at Paris on 4 June 1623, and appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of England. He died on 16 April 1624 and was probably buried in St Pancras cemetery.
Throughout the recusant period, Mass was said regularly and a school was maintained. St Margaret’s Catholic School in Friars Lane was built by Lady Bedingfeld in 1881 and closed in 1952. The local community showed generous tolerance to the Catholic community and no Catholic in Brailes was ever betrayed. The present chapel was constructed in 1726 by Father George Bishop, over fifty years before the Act of 1791 which first made Catholic chapels legal. It has served the local parish ever since. The parishes of Brailes and Ilmington with Shipston were combined in 1973 as the Parish of Our Lady and the Apostles and canonically amalgamated in 2013.
The Grade II* listed chapel and presbytery were restored by the Most Rev. Maurice Couve de Murville, 8th Archbishop of Birmingham, with generous help from English Heritage in 1992-93. The former farm kitchen and service wing beneath the chapel was restored in 2009 for use as a parish hall.
Features of special interest
The Georgian panelling and altar rails are original and there is 18th century Chinese wallpaper in the priest’s sacristy. Three of the original box pews are preserved in the organ gallery. The one-manual chamber organ with its fine mahogany case was made about 1826. It is the work of Joseph Robson, organ builder to King George IV. The organ was restored and rebuilt by Michael Latham and obtained for the chapel in 2008.
The painting of the Crucifixion over the altar is from the late 17th century. On the west wall there is a 19th century painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Over the door hangs an 18th century painting of Christ. The icon of Our Lady with SS Peter and Paul by Peter Murphy was given in 2008 in memory of Merche Bovill, a parishioner who died in 2007.
The chapel has two statues. One depicts St Joseph (by Mayer of Munich); the other Sacred Heart and Our Lady, Queen of Peace. It was carved by a Polish craftsman as a thankoffering for the end of the Second World War. These both came from St Philip’s Church, Ilmington, when it closed in 2013.
The recusant library and most of the collection of antique vestments and plate belonging to the chapel are kept in the museum at Oscott College in Birmingham and at Harvington Hall near Kidderminster. Some of these items came from Weston House at Long Compton, the home of the recusant Sheldon family. Weston House maintained a chapel until the beginning of the 19th century. 17th and 18th century sets of vestments are retained at Brailes and are used at Mass on special feast days.