Francis Stanfield was born in Camden in 1835,and died in Clapton, East London in 1914. He was the son of Clarkson Stanfield (1793-1867), a well-known Victorian
landscape painter (with a style similar to Turner), a friend of Charles Dickens. A loyal Anglican, influenced initially by the Oxford Movement, Clarkson Stanfield converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in his later years. Two of his children, Francis and Raymund, also converted, and became Roman Catholic priests.
Francis was ordained in 1860 in the Archdiocese of Westminster
to serve firstly in Hertford, but an invitation came from Cardinal Manning that he
should become the parish priest of a newly-build Roman Catholic Church,
Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, in Covent Garden.
The Church was built in 1874 as an act of reparation for sins against the Blessed Sacrament during the Reformation and since.
Fr Stanfield had a deep devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament;
and was just the man for the place. It is here that Fr Francis composed the hymns Sweet Sacrament Divine and O Sacred Heart .
It also became known (and still is) as the Actors’ (Roman Catholic) Church,
providing a home for Catholic Actors performing in and around Covent Garden.
Over the years Corpus Christi has become a place of devotion, stillness and prayer, where one can spend time quietly before the Blessed Sacrament.
The very heart of Corpus Christi’s mission is leading souls to God.
Since the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2018, the Church has been designated
the Westminster Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament,
and was elevated on that day to this dignity by Cardinal Nichols.
It was the Eucharistic faith and devotion of Fr Stanfield
which is the foundation of this.
His spiritual fervour is still in evidence, and lives on in the words
of one of the most-loved Catholic hymns....
Sweet Sacrament divine, hid in thine earthly home, lo, round thy lowly shrine, with suppliant hearts we come; Jesus, to thee our voice we raise in songs of love and heartfelt praise: sweet Sacrament divine.
Sweet Sacrament divine!
Sweet Sacrament of peace, dear home for every heart, where restless yearnings cease and sorrows all depart; there in thine ear all trustfully we tell our tale of misery: sweet Sacrament of peace;
Sweet Sacrament of peace!
Sweet Sacrament of rest, ark from the ocean's roar, within thy shelter blest soon may we reach the shore; save us, for still the tempest raves, save, lest we sink beneath the waves: sweet Sacrament of rest.
Sweet Sacrament of rest!
Sweet Sacrament divine, earth's light and jubilee, in thy far depths doth shine thy Godhead's majesty; sweet light, so shine on us, we pray, that earthly joys may fade away: sweet Sacrament divine.
Sweet Sacrament divine!