The Home and Sisterhood of St Peter was founded in London by Benjamin and Rosamira Lancaster in 1861. It was an Anglican order with close affinities with the Anglo-Catholic Movement. 

The first phase, the West wing of their Home in the country at Woking opened in 1885. The chapel was the last phase and opened in 1900. The Home and chapel were designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1818-1897), one of the foremost architects of the day. The chapel was his last design and after his death, the project was completed by his son Frank (1864-1947).

The magnificent high altar and Baldacchino canopy in the main chapel are made from oyster and pink alabaster and marble. The carving was the work of Nathanial Hitch (1845-1938), sculptor and modeller. The red marble for the columns of the Baldacchino was imported for the first time from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. The Sanctuary pavement consists of marbles from many countries, while the black marble from Derbyshire and Durham has fossils of shells and fish. 

High Altar and Baldacchino. Courtesy: The Society of St Pius X

The Crypt Lady Chapel is even more spectacular with a very Byzantine effect of colourful mosaics and marbles. It was always thought that the vibrant mosaics in the Lady Chapel were the work of Salviati & Co, but the chapel accounts only mention Burke & Co. Why? The answer is that Antonio Salviati (1816-1890) & Co of London and Venice and William Henry Burke (1835-1908) & Co of London and Paris, collaborated and were often partners – Salviati produced the mosaics and Burke installed them. 

Mosaics in the Vault of the Crypt Chapel. Courtesy: The Society of St Pius X

Salviati claimed to have invented an easier way to apply mosaics than fixing each glass tesserae cube on site. In his method, the design was drawn in reverse on strong paper, in this case by Frank Pearson, Salviati's craftsmen then stuck the tesserae to the design. In the Chapel, Burke's men applied a layer of smooth fine mortar on the area to be decorated. The tesserae were then pushed firmly into the mortar. When the mortar had hardened the paper was removed the surface was cleaned and polished.

The chapel accounts record: "13 April 1908 Messers Burke & Co began work in mosaics in the Lady Chapel". The last of six entries is dated 7 December 1908. Before the mosaics were completed, the dedication of the Lady Chapel altar took place on Wednesday 1 July 1908, to the memory of Mother Sarah Francis, the second Mother Superior, who died in 1904. The large congregation was headed by Mother Lisa, Sisters Bishops, and others, including Frank Pearson and his wife.

The altar of Carrara marble has corners of Connemara marble. The central is red porphyry flanked by blue lapis lazuli, red and yellow jasper. The pavement has coloured marbles from many countries. The reredos on the altar is gold-covered copper with semi-precious stones, some given by the Sisters. It is the work of John Starkie Gardner (1844-1930), a notable metal worker and authority on the subject. 

Altar and Reredos in the Crypt Chapel. Courtesy: The Society of St Pius X

The theme of the Lady Chapel is Christ's Passion. The windows depict angels holding the Instruments of the Passion. The mosaic frieze around the Sanctuary walls is a quotation from John 3:16 in Latin which translates as: "For God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting". The mosaics on the ceiling depict the angels holding scrolls representing the titles given to the Messiah. They surround the central image of the Lamb of God. 

The Rev John V MacMillan, bishop of Guildford from 1945 - 1949, described the Lady Chapel as "the gem of my Diocese". Indeed it is, but both upper and lower chapels are gems of art and architecture.

The old buildings were sold and turned into apartments, and in 1996 the chapel was sold to the Catholic Priestley Society of Saint Pius X, who worship there using the Latin Mass. The chapel is now named The Chapel of The Holy Cross and is usually open on Heritage Open Days in September and a visit is highly recommended. 

Find out more about Woking in our local history museum, Woking’s Story.