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Perhaps I wasn't quite as observant on my previous visits to Manchester city centre but I'm pretty sure that the tourist signs to St Mary's Church, which intriguingly describe it as "The hidden gem" are quite new. Located on a narrow back street close to the Town Hall this little church is situated right in the heart of the city centre.
From the outside there is anything particularly remarkable about this place. There's a date inscribed into the brickwork of 1794, the year that the church was built but other than that there is very little in the way of clues to warn the visitor of what they might find if they step inside. Perhaps the only hint is in the old wooden entrance door, which by modern standards is tiny but seems to have a keyhole that takes up half of its length.
St Mary's is a Roman Catholic Church that describes itself as the "Mother Church of Catholic Manchester and Salford". It is certainly the oldest Catholic Church in the city and even stakes a claim to be the oldest post Reformation Catholic Church in England.
Stepping inside the church was quite a surprise despite being promised "a hidden gem". Immediately inside the doorway there is an intricate work of art depicting a lamb and elsewhere there are several more examples of fine carvings and sculptures. All of these are the work of the same man called Richard Lane. It is however inevitable that the visitor's eye is immediately drawn towards the altar, which features life size sculptures of Mary and Jesus as well as several of the Saints. The altar is constructed of highly decorative white marble that contrasts with the dark wood that is otherwise predominant within the church.
The stained glass windows are another notable feature of this church but gazing upwards I couldn't help but feel that the ceiling looked a little bit odd and out of place. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the original roof was replaced twice during the 19th century.
Immediately to the right of the main altar there is a small chapel called the Pieta Chapel and close to this there is an interesting font. The font dates actually dates from the 14th century and originally stood in another church nearby. Along the right hand wall (as you are facing the main altar) there are a row of private booths.
The two most famous aspects of St Mary's are probably its wall paintings that depict the journey of Christ to the cross. These are known as "Stations of the Cross" and they are now quite well known. The images are rather chilling and thus quite controversial. They are the sort of thing that many people either love or hate. As a non-religious person I actually liked them and found them very interesting. The other famous association with St Mary's is its connection with Lowry who painted it in one of his sketches in 1962.
I really enjoyed visiting here and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to others.
The church welcomes visitors and claims to be both disabled and child friendly although I saw no evidence of either so I can only assume there is a different entrance/exit for wheelchair users elsewhere. The opening hours are:
8am until 4pm (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday)
8am until 6pm (Thursday)
9.30am until 5.15pm (Saturday)
Admission is free but donations are of course welcome.
St. Mary's Church
I have read reviews about beautiful churches around the world and have infact visited quite a few myself, I must admit I do Love the atmosphere and exquisite architecture usually associated with places of worship.
This lead to me placing a "suggestion" for my favourite Church to date and its located in Manchester City Centre. I feel nervous now, as I really feel I must do this gorgeous little church justice.
St Marys Roman Catholic Church ~Affectionately known as ~ The Hidden Gem
Why The Hidden Gem? Simply because such a place of undeniable beauty with such a powerful atmosphere within is located in what was years ago the "roughest" area of Manchester, coldly described as a "hot bed of crime".
St Marys was built in 1794 as the "Mother Church of Catholic Manchester and Salford" and this status still remains today, the idea being to give some Hope, Belief and Faith to the poorest residents, bringing them together as one big family.
This idea seemed to work in principle but I have my suspicions the daily crime and misdemeanours continued swiftly followed by a visit to church.
Years have passed and times have changed and so has the surrounding area, still tucked away from the "hubbub" of city life, even though located in the midst of the city centre but now surrounded by warehouses, offices and shops, the little church still emanates its extraordinary power and magic, evident to all who visit it.
St Marys is the oldest Catholic Church in situ (in its original place) in Manchester and Salford and is thought to be the oldest post Reformation Catholic Church to be founded in England.
Dedicated to Our Ladys Assumption into Heaven, the church opened its doors November 30th 1794 and still today the doors are open daily for any one to visit to say a prayer, light a candle or sit in quiet contemplation. Im told priests and tourists alike visit from all around the world to experience the magical atmosphere for themselves...
Weekdays~ 8am ~ 4pm (Thurs till 6pm)
Saturdays~12 noon and 5.15pm(first mass of Sunday)
Sundays~10.15 and 12 noon.
Priest~ Canon Denis Clinch
Mulberry Street, Manchester, M2 6NL
Situated off Brazennose Street opposite the main entrance to The Town Hall, Albert Square. Alternatively just "off" John Dalton Street through Tasle Alley .
It has disabled access and is deemed "child friendly". There is no car park available attached to the church. The priests house is situated next door to the church.
The roof was replaced in 1833 by "cowboy builders" amazing they even exsisted all those years ago and virtually the whole roof collapsed in August 1835 causing major damage.
The rebuild was completed in 1844. All carvings and sculptures featured within the church are the work of Mr Lane of Preston and led to him winning prizes and high praise especially for the statue of Our Lady Of Manchester carved in rare marble and decribed as "an exquisite masterpiece".
The main entrance leads you through the ancient outer doorway with a finely carved medallion depicting a lamb supported on both sides by Angels with the words "Let us climb the mountain of the Lord and adore in his Holy place." This is situated above the doorway. You then pass through the heavy dark red wooden doors decorated with stained glass, as you enter if you turn around you see the gallery and organ loft above crafted in the same beautiful heavy red wood as the doors.
The marble High Altar is the predominant feature of the church as pictured above (thank you Dooyoo for the wonderful picture). Complete with figures of Angels and life size figures of Saints, Our Lady and Our Lord. All carved expertly in Caen stone ~ a light creamy-yellow "jurassic limestone" mined near the city of Caen, France.
I am always in awe of the altar and never tire of gazing up at the imposing life size figures totally captivating in their simplistic beauty. The pure magic of the church is enhanced in my opinion mainly by it's understated decor. No "glitz or glamour" no "gold or silver" simply marble and Caen stone, the mute creams and yellows with a touch of brown highlighted with the gloss of marble and illuminated by the light shining through the glorious stained glass windows.
To the right of the High Altar is The Shrine Of Our Lady Of Manchester complete with a life size figure of Our Lady holding Baby Jesus, surrounded by Angels. The wall facing the Altar houses a beautiful stained glass window depicting Our Lady, again the natural light adds to the heavenly air. Wrought iron stands containing candles for the public to light in memory of Loved ones they may have lost or are in need of some comfort are available for a small donation.
The Baptismal Font dates from the 14th century and features nine miniature marble panels depicting baptismal scenes from the bible. It stands in all it's glory infront of The Shrine Of Our Lady and has to date been a part of more than 50,000 baptisms ~ thats alot of crying babies.
To the left side of the High Altar is The Pieta Chapel and Altar with again life size figures of Our Lady holding the dead Christ surrounded by Angels. Another stand of candles as before completes this Altar.
The main problem was lack of natural light, the church being a tall building hemmed in on 3 sides by equally tall buildings gave rise to a dark, gloomy atmosphere, this was solved by including a "glassed cupola" (a small dome like structure) over the naive of the church.The cupola is octagonal,with each of the eight segments containing a pair of windows glazed with a delicate floral motif. Even on the dullest of Manchester days, the church is bathed in natural light, again highlighting the raw beauty of the 3 Altars.
The Adams Stations Of The Cross are a very famous feature of the church but Im sad to say, I don't like them. They are large brightly coloured paintings by Norman Adams depicting Christs journey to his death. Each painting features only Christs head with the terror, pain and suffering etched upon his face. I actually find them haunting and don't think they are suitable for young children to view as they are such powerful images. I understand the message they convey but personally feel they would be equally as effective even if they were scaled down as the emotions are so raw for every one to see. They give a stark contrast to the ornate Victorian interior and are the only part of the church I would change in favour of traditional "stations of the cross".
If you have a look at the website let me know what you think of the Stations Of The Cross please.
In 1962 Lowry did a chalk and charcoal drawing of St Marys.
You can't help but be inspired by this little gem of a church and as you enter you have an immense feeling of returning home, it's uncanny, every one Ive taken for a visit church goers and atheists alike have all experienced the same welcoming feeling almost as if you have visited before...
It offers a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of life, to sit and reflect for 10 minutes let the world keep spinning while you alight and contemplate the journeys you have made and are about to make in the future. Light candles and have a quick word with yourself, Loved ones or if you are a believer God himself...
I visit The Hidden Gem at least once a week and hope my support will help ensure it's future as even though it supports many local charities and local hospitals it is heavily in debt and it saddens me to see my local church in Sale basking in wealth, hence another reason I prefer to travel to Manchester and donate what I can to help others less fortunate than myself...
This little Treasure/Gem of a church is described as being "most holy" and it does have a celestial air to it that instantly unwinds and relaxes you, even my 17 year old daughter in her "I don't believe in God" phase can't be in Manchester and pass on a visit to The Hidden Gem, she even requests it at times. So I urge you if you find yourself in Manchester, have a look and see if you can find my little haven and let me know if you felt it's power.
Thank you for reading my review.
The Hidden Gem Manchester