Right in the heart of Manchester city centre there’s a stunning Catholic church that’s been hidden away for hundreds of years. Or it has been until now.
The scaffolding that’s long-marred Lincoln Square during its redevelopment has finally been removed to show St Mary’s Hidden Gem in its full glory, and glorious it really is.
Externally it’s comprised of the plain, red brick you see all over Manchester, but with a few special additions.
An ornate bell tower, stone-dressed windows and a carved stone doorway with a hand above forming the sign of the Ascension of Christ give visitors just the smallest hint of the beauty waiting to be discovered within.
Venture through its doorway, and you’ll be greeted by beautiful stained glass windows, a majestic Victorian carving and High Altar made of marble.
Life-size statues of Our Lady, St Stephen, St Patrick, St Peter, St John, St Hilda, St Augustine and St Joseph, all of whom gaze down serenely from on high.
In the very centre of the Altar, above the Tabernacle, sits Christ himself bearing the Sacred Heart. Elsewhere, you’ll spy striking expressionist paintings of the Stations of the Cross – the handiwork of late British artist and professor of painting Norman Adams.
The church dates all the way back to 1774 , when it was originally located on Rook Street (near to today’s Fountain Street).
Over the years it has been afflicted by fires and other acts of God, still it stands firm.
The roof is said to have spontaneously cracked and collapsed in 1833 after its Rector at the time, Father Henry Gillow, had (in folly) enlisted his congregation’s help to conduct repairs without the oversight of a master builder.
At other points in St Mary’s history, a number of fires have required it to be rebuilt several times.
First erected at its home on Mulberry Street in 1794 following a fire, the church was rebuilt again in 1848 after it was destroyed in similar circumstance once again – leading architects to redesign it in an eclectic mix of Norman, Byzantine and Gothic styles that horrified top architects of the day.
It was the first Catholic church to be built in the Uk for some 250 years, thanks to Henry VIII’s desire to remarry, which led the country to break away from the Catholic church in the 1530s, but its parishioners were very poor, and during the 17th century had to meet secretly to conduct services.
During this time, catholics were treated as second class citizens and were banned from many privileges – such as owning a horse, serving the armed forces, practising law or teaching – incase they might decide to side with the Pope over the Crown.
Thankfully this is no longer the case today, and it remains open for all to visit – religious or not – to soak up a moment of quiet away from the noise of the city.
Whilst over time the Manchester that exists outside it has changed beyond recognition, St Mary’s HIdden Gem remains an oasis of peace today just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Albert Square and Deansgate.
Well worth a visit for its stunning interiors alone, this charming piece of Manchester history is worth seeking out – and now, its easier to find than ever before.
Feature image – The Manc Group