The Church foundation stone was laid by the Bishop of Plymouth, John Patrick Barrett, on Sunday, 7 June 1931.
Construction took almost a year to complete and cost £15,000.
The Church was opened on 28th May 1932 by being blessed by Bishop John Barrett, who celebrated a solemn Pontifical Mass on the following day – Sunday 29th May 1932.
The building itself is constructed of red brick with Portland stone dressings in the Romanesque style.
The Portico entrance has six green marble columns. Inside there is extensive use of marble which was saved from the demolition of Marley House on Woodbury Common.
The Baldachino in the sanctuary is supported on seven columns in Italian Cippolino marble, with the altar in green onyx and tabernacle in polished brass.
The Campanalia (bell tower), was originally 90ft high before being hit by a glancing bomb strike on 4 May 1942. This bomb completely demolished the presbytery next door and reduced the tower height to 60ft. Unfortunately the tower was not restored after the war to its original height. The tower houses a four-ton bell, named ‘Emmanuel’, which is the third heaviest bell in South West England.
The Organ is the original one in the gallery and is now in need of major refurbishment to bring it up to modern standards.
Did you know? There is a sister church to the Blessed Sacrament built at the same time in the city of Plymouth – St Pauls, St Budeaux.
The bell was installed at the time of the building of the church in 1932. It was given the name “Emmanuel”. As you can see from the excerpts from newspapers articles at the time there was some controversy surrounding its installation and ringing.
During World War 2 a German bomb fell on the tower, which deflected onto the Presbytery where it exploded. The Presbytery was flattened; thankfully there was no one in it at the time. The top of the bell tower was badly damaged and removed. There have been times when the bell was rung, but the anxiety over safety persisted until very recently, despite an overhaul of the bell and its hangings in 1966.
On New Year’s Eve 2004 two men from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers came to inspect the bell, its hangings and the tower, and found everything in good working order and that it was perfectly safe to ring the bell. This was good timing as we were able to ring the New Year in after Mass that night. It is now rung before each Sunday Mass to call people to worship and on other special occasions. The word Emmanuel means “God-with-us”. Every time “Emmanuel” the bell is rung – it is a proclamation that indeed God-is-with-us
The bell was cast by John Taylor and co. of Loughborough who also cast the bells of St. Michael’s C of E church in Heavitree. It cost £1,000 in 1932 including transit and fixing.
The tone is A flat and it would be in harmony with St. Michael’s bells should they be rung at the same time.
“Emmanuel” is the third largest bell west of Bristol, the two larger ones being “Peter” in Exeter Cathedral, and “Hosanna” in Buckfast Abbey. It has had “dampers” fixed possibly in response to the controversy when it was installed, but it still gives a rich mellow note.
Article from Western Morning News 19th. January 1932
A New Bell
The new bell for Heavitree Roman Catholic church was yesterday blessed and dedicated by the Right Rev Barrett, Bishop of Plymouth. The tower has been specially built for this bell, which weighs four tons. Next to Great Peter, in Exeter Cathedral, which weighs six tons, five cwt. It is the largest bell in Devon. The bell cost £1,000 including cost of transit and fixing which will take place during the next few days.
The ceremony was held under an awning outside the church. The Bishop was accompanied by Father J. Tymone (parish priest of Heavitree), Father Bouchier (Okehampton), Father Parsons (Budleigh Salterton) and others. The ceremony included the blessing of the Holy Water used in the blessing of the bell, and the washing of the bell with holy water. The Bishop commenced the act of washing and others continued it, both outside and inside the bell. The Bishop also took the oil of Chrism and with it made seven signs of the Cross on the exterior at different places. He also made four signs on the interior with the holy oil. Seven psalms were recited, and in the prayers stress was laid on the power of the sound of the bell to expel evil spirits and calm the disturbance of the elements.
Father Tymons, in an address said that in all England there were only about 20 such bells, including those installed in public buildings. The name of the bell would be Emmanuel.
The Angelus bell would recall the mystery of the Incarnation and would ring to being them to Holy Mass and to the Instructions. It was an all-British bell. They welcomed Mr. Taylor who cast it and who shaped also the peal in Heavitree Church and made the new bell to be in tune to that peal.
“In all courtesy to our neighbours who have been falsely alarmed by reports of the weight of the bell, I offer an explanation,” added Father Tymons. “twelve months ago even before the plans of this church were drawn, I went to the office of the chief constable of Exeter and inquired if there was any law prohibiting the ringing of a bell in the new Roman Catholic Church at Heavitree. Consulting his memory, the Chief Constable answered, “No”. Consulting his books again he answered, “No, there is no law against a bell or a peal of bells.” On this assurance the plans for the were drawn; the order for the bell was given and accepted. On June 7th., when the foundation stone was laid, we announced a four ton bell for the tower.
What was the effect of that announcement.
First, in the local papers a correspondence favourable and unfavourable. Secondly, a house-to-house canvass against the erection of the bell. Some signed the paper willingly, others refused to sign, others again signed because misled by false statements.
“ A few of the misstatements I now venture to correct. I assert that this bell shall not ring every midnight, that it shall not ring at six o’clock every morning, nor shall it ring the whole day long. The bell does not weigh ten tons, but only four tons. The contention that the heavier the bell the lower the note is untrue; the bass in a choir is not louder than a shrill soprano; the heavier the weight the deeper and more mellow the tone. It was said that the value of property would depreciate because of this bell. I claim that there are Catholics in Exeter who are awaiting the fulfilment of this prophecy so that they may purchase a dwelling under the shadow of this tower. Mr Taylor assures me that the utmost precaution has been taken in the fashioning of this bell to eliminate all unpleasant noise and he claims to have succeeded.
In the construction of the tower we have avoided the time-honoured style with its lateral openings which emit the maximum volume of sound, and the louvres that deflect the sound downwards towards the dwellings beneath. This new style tower has no side openings, no louvres, but an open roof, through which the sound ascends skywards.
“I pledge my word that the day when this bell becomes a source of grave annoyance to the general public I shall be the very first to forbid the swinging of it.
Father Tymons thanked the Bishop for his attendance.
Article from the Express & Echo 1966
27 Years, Now “Emmanuel” talks again.
In common with all church bells in Britain “Emmanuel” remained silent during the war. It would only have been heard if the country was invaded and through lack of use the bell badly needed overhauling. Now the giant bell can be heard again after a complete “facelift”.
“Emmanuel” had a narrow escape during the blitz on Exeter when a direct hit destroyed the presbytery and badly damaged the church tower.
Heavitree’s giant bell was given by two wealthy sisters, the Misses Hilda and Edith Robinson, who were responsible for the building of several Roman Catholic churches in Devon.