The history of St. James was published in May 2008 as part of the Centennial celebrations.
Author Clement William Welsh (left) and editor Horace W. Gibson, Jr., sign copies of their book during the Centennial Celebration.
The Rev. Clement W. Welsh (author) was born in Oakmont, PA. He came to Florence after a twenty-year ministry at the College of preachers in Washington DC, which followed directorship of the Forward Movement Publications, and before that fifteen years of teaching at Bexley Hall and Kenyon College. He now lives in Maryland.Horace W. Gibson (editor) was born in North Carolina, grew up in Florida, and lived in New York City before moving to Italy. In 1952 he co-founded with Paul Burke-Mahony what is now the International School of Florence. He has been an active member of St. James Church since 1963.
A short history of the building
Florence was closed to non-Roman Catholic churches until after the Grand Duke of Tuscany was exiled in 1849 and the Tuscan parliament passed legislation permitting churches of other denominations. About 1850 a few Americans began organizing a church, and the parish was officially recognized in 1867.
The beautiful building we now occupy was designed as the last work of an English architect, prominent in the Gothic Revival of the late 19th Century. The land was purchased in 1907 for $ 12,822; church construction, organ and other furnishings totalled $ 66,556. More than half of the total was contributed by Edward Francis Searles. A crucial $ 10,000 came from J. Pierpont Morgan, who was approached by church representatives following his generosity to the Episcopal Church in Rome in purchasing a piece of land inside the walls of the old city. Upon examination of the architect’s drawings, he declared the building inadequate and requested more elaborate plans. When these were produced, his gift was forthcoming.
The church was closed during World War II, but was not heavily damaged. It was reopened in 1947, a time when the American community in Florence included Bernard Berenson, Sinclair Lewis, and the M.I.T. inventor Philip Baldwin.
The church’s most dramatic moment came on November 3 – 4, 1966, when the Arno River flooded, rising to a height of 12 feet in some of Florence’s museums and monuments, doing devastating damage. The water and fuel oil flooded the parish hall under the church and reached the window sills of the rectory. St. James parishioners wrote their friends in America and within the next 3 months raised $ 425,000 to help the needy. The vestry, in cooperation with the British, set up a relief agency to investigate each case and to provide a maximum grant of $ 35 weekly per family.
Having come from a past when the purpose of the church was to provide a place of worship and community for English – speaking people, we are now recognizing the opportunity of being a multilingual international congregation and of welcoming our Italian neighbors.
Contact the Church Office to get your copy or order one online