Chapel has tale to tell

PUBLISHED: 12:03 11 May 2006 | UPDATED: 13:27 04 May 2010

WHEN I am reading things about the local area, a chance mention often makes me wonder about an historical event, place or person. This is true of the Countess of Huntingdon and the chapel that bears her name in Ely. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, was

WHEN I am reading things about the local area, a chance mention often makes me wonder about an historical event, place or person. This is true of the Countess of Huntingdon and the chapel that bears her name in Ely.

Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, was the daughter of Earl Ferrers and was born in 1707. In 1728, she married the 9th Earl of Huntingdon, Theophilus Hastings and it was through his sister, Mary, that Selina was introduced to Methodism and she became a Methodist in her early thirties.

The Countess of Huntingdon was able to appoint her own chaplain and she selected George Whitfield. He was a charismatic preacher who had been banned from preaching in his local churches. Undeterred, he started preaching in the open-air to miners at Kingswood, near Bristol. She also used her aristocratic background to secure the appointments of other evangelical clergymen to church livings.

After the death of her husband in the 1740's, the Countess devoted her time to promoting evangelical ideas. As a peeress she was able to open private chapels, many of them were attached to her residences. By the time of her death in 1791 there were over 60 chapels that were associated with the Countess of Huntingdon; most of them were local trusts.

Selina's original aim had been to evangelise within the aristocratic circles in which she moved. This did not always go down too well though, and the Duchess of Buckingham informed the Countess that her Methodist doctrines were "strongly tinctured with impertinence towards their superiors".

In 1768 the countess of Huntingdon opened a training college, Trevecca College at Talgarth, Brecknockshire. Here men were trained for the clergy and sent out to the chapels the Countess had established. She took a personal interest in the students and spent a great deal of time there.

Eventually, Selina also fell out with Anglican clergy, who did not agree with some of her doctrines either. The Countess of Huntingdon left the Church of England in 1781. It had been increasingly difficult for the clergymen trained at Trevecca College to obtain ordination in the Church of England. So on March 9, 1783, the first ordination service took place at the college. At this event the Connexion's Articles of Faith were first read.

This Connexion drew on doctrines from the Church of England, the Westminster confession and others that are the Connexion's own Articles of Faith.

Thus one of the Countess of Huntingdon's chapels is in Ely. Whether she visited the city herself is unclear, but that is another piece of research on the list.

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