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'The Rembrandt Priest' Talks About His Parish, St. Nicholas Church

Father Michael Cooper talks about painting, the history of the Encino church, and what it means to be Anglo-Catholic.

Back in August last year, St. Nicholas Church in Encino hit the headlines when Father Michael Cooper recovered a painting, thought initially to be by Rembrandt, that had been stolen from an art exhibit in Marina Del Rey.

Patch caught up with Father Cooper recently to chat about the history of St. Nicholas and about what happened after the painting was recovered.

St. Nicholas is described on its website as "an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Episcopal tradition." What does that mean?

We’re part of the Anglican communion but very distinct in our style of liturgy. We're very high church, we're more 'catholic' than most catholics. [We're part of the] Oxford Movement, which was started by John Henry Newman, Pusey and Kebel, and all these great Oxford dons. The Church of England has always been the catholic church in England. It has a great sense of social justice, of working with the poor. There was a revival when it spread over here to America as well. It's a distinct style of worship. I'm a Catholic priest, but I'm not Roman, I'm Anglican. It's a branch of the Episcopalian Church.

How did St. Nicholas get its start in Encino?

The church was founded as an Anglo-Catholic church by Father Smith in 1939. It was the first Anglican church in the Valley. It started in a tent somewhere else, and Edward Horton, the actor, donated a plot of land. It had a barn on it and they raised money and built the knave of the church. It really is a part of Valley history.

Tell us about the Rembrandt (or at least school-of-Rembrandt) painting that you found here at St. Nicholas last year after it was stolen from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Marina del Rey. Any updates?

I did a follow up not too long ago with the detective. The Sherrif's department has it still, as the owner can't produce enough proof that it's his, other than an invoice for framing and a log showing it. The last I heard the jury was still out on whether it was by Rembrandt. It's probably from the Rembrandt school and was produced under his tutelage.

That was our 15 minutes of fame. I was at a conference back in Detroit recently and someone came up to me and said "Are you the Rembrandt priest?"

That sounds like a Dan Brown novel: 'The Rembrandt Priest.'

Yes, like Angels and Demons, or The Da Vinci Code. You know, it could've still been hanging on my wall here.

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St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, 17114 Ventura Boulevard, Encino, Tel 818-788-4486. For English and Spanish service times and information, click here to visit the church's website.

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