Category Archives: Sacred Places

156 years of continuing prayer

St Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield

When I run my annual Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe we visit one of only two remaining Christian places of worship in the Lower Don Valley. It’s also the only historic place of worship in the Valley that has been in continuous use since it was built.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Charles Borromeo was consecrated in 1868 to provide a home for a congregation that had been meeting since 1864.

This was the time when the flat rural meadows and gardens of the Lower Don Valley were being replaced by huge steelworks served by rail and canal. 

Housing for the workers, many of whom came from surrounding counties and as far away as Ireland, had to be within walking distance of the works because public transport was inadequate and expensive.

The church was the gift of Mr William Wake of Osgathorpe, and partly financed by gifts of £500 each from the Duke of Norfolk and from Mrs Wake and her family.  The eventual cost was £4,700. 

The dedication commemorates the Wakes’ son, Charles, who drowned while skating on the Serpentine in Regent’s Park in January 1867.

The building was designed by Charles John Innocent (1837-1901) and Thomas Brown (c1845-1881), who went on to design nineteen out of the twenty-two schools built by the Sheffield School Board from 1873 onwards.

Initially only the nave and the presbytery were constructed.  Charles Innocent returned in 1887 to oversee the lengthening of the nave and the construction of the baptistery and two porches to the west and the chancel, Lady Chapel and sacristy to the east.  These extensions, costing £2,400, were the gift of the Duke of Norfolk and Mr and Mrs Wade.

The interior is spacious and light, with a hammerbeam roof.  The screens, choir stalls and pulpit were designed by C J Innocent and carved by the sculptor Harry Hems of Exeter (1842-1916).  The organ is by the Norwich builder Norman & Beard, and dates from 1911.

The adjacent brick-built school was originally built in 1871 and rebuilt in 1929 in memory of the first rector of the parish, Father Joseph Hurst, who served from 1866 to 1905.  It was remodelled in 1964 by Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson, and closed because of falling rolls in 1981. 

After some years of use for Youth Training Scheme activities it became the Diocese of Hallam Pastoral Centre, opening on June 27th 1990.

Alongside the Centre, regular services continue in the church of St Charles, as they have done since 1868.

St Charles Borromeo Church is a destination on Mike Higginbottom’s Heritage Open Days A Walk Round Attercliffe which takes place on Friday September 6th 2024 from 10am to 12.30pm, starting and finishing at the Attercliffe tram stop.  

Call 07946-650672 or e-mail mike@mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk to book.

St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, Keighley

St Anne’s Roman Catholic Parish Church, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) began his career as an architect in the early 1830s, empowered by two events, the Roman Catholic Relief Act (1829) and his own conversion to Catholicism in 1834, which led him to become the great pioneer of the Gothic Revival in the British Isles and across the world.

John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury (1791-1852) enlisted him to design Catholic churches, monasteries and schools, and Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860) hired him to contribute detailed designs to the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster for which he was never in his lifetime accorded adequate credit.

In a short career lasting barely a decade Pugin directed his prodigious artistic talent to provide inexpensive church designs for impoverished congregations alongside opulent commissions for wealthy Catholic patrons.

He was capable of devising simple, dignified parish churches for as little as £3,000, yet when he had access to a generous budget – and when he was footing the bill himself – he spent lavishly and designed richly.

St Anne’s, Keighley is typical of his low-budget commissions, a modest nave with a short chancel and a belfry which fell down during construction and had to be rebuilt.  The current edition of Pevsner’s Buildings of England:  Yorkshire West Riding – Leeds, Bradford and the North (Yale University Press 2009) points out that the simplicity of the lancet windows were “popular among less exacting architects”;  given the chance, Pugin would have insisted on tracery.

The Pevsner volume (p 353) shows an 1843 engraving of the building in its original form – modest, simple, elegant, and instantly recognisable as essentially Pugin.

However, by the end of the nineteenth century the congregation had outgrown the building and the Bradford architect Edward Simpson (1844-1937) turned the place on its axis and more than doubled its floor area in 1907.

Pugin had observed the tradition that worshippers should face east towards Jerusalem, but his chancel became the entrance, and at the west end Simpson added a florid new chancel and a pair of double transepts.  They are clearly by a different hand, yet Simpson shows respect for the original design.  This layout is practical, providing direct entry from North Street, and is visually harmonious.

The interior was extensively beautified in the period 1908-1915.  Pugin’s 1841 east window by Thomas Willement (1786-1871) remains above the entrance doors, and the original altar is now in the Chapel of Our Lady.  The main sanctuary has an imposing high altar and reredos, installed in 1915:  Taking Stock – Catholic Churches of England and Wales (taking-stock.org.uk).

It’s ironic that when a similar rearrangement was proposed at the former St Aidan’s, Small Heath, Birmingham, now All Saints’, in 1998, the Victorian Society strongly objected, until firmly told by the Chancellor of the Consistory Court that worship took precedence over antiquarianism.

St Anne’s amalgamated with the nearby parish of Our Lady Of Victories Keighley in 2016 and it’s apparent from the parish website that the congregation is thriving:  St Anne’s Catholic Church – Priest’s Welcome (stanneskeighley.org.uk).

The parish has a long tradition of welcoming strangers to its community – “…not only the Irish immigrants but later on the Italians, Poles, Slovenians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Latvians, Czechoslovakians, people from many African countries and most recently Indians from Kerela as well as many migrant workers from Eastern Europe” – and supports socially and economically disadvantaged members of the local community through its charity shop and at the Good Shepherd Centre:  St Anne’s Catholic Church – Good Shepherd Centre (stanneskeighley.org.uk).

Temple Street Methodist Church, Keighley

Temple Street Methodist Church, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Temple Street Methodist Church (1846) is indeed a temple celebrating the growth of Wesleyan Methodism in Keighley in the former West Riding of Yorkshire.

There had been Methodists in the town for just over a hundred years by the time it was built.  A journeyman shoemaker called John Wilkinson formed a small group to meet in his cottage for worship in 1742. 

The tiny congregation rapidly grew to over a hundred, and John Wesley (1703-1791) made his first visit to the town in 1746.  He returned in 1753, 1759 and 1772.  On his last visit, in April 1774, he preached to “our old, upright, loving brethren at Keighley”.

The first purpose-built preaching house opened in 1754 and was enlarged in 1764 and 1777.  It was superseded by the Eden Chapel in 1811, which became a Sunday School when the Temple Street chapel opened, designed to accommodate 1,600 people, in 1846.

At that time the façade looked out across an open space to North Street, the main road, but later its façade was hemmed in by the buildings of Russell Chambers.

This was not the only Methodist presence in Keighley.  The Primitive Methodists began a mission in 1821 and eventually extended to three circuits, and the Wesleyan Protestant Methodists built their Gothic church with its 125-foot spire, the tallest in the town, in c1863.  These were only the most prominent among a scattering of little chapels across the locality.

My friend John who grew up in Haworth in the 1960s remembers Temple Street for the Keighley Grammar School Founder’s Day services and the annual performances of Messiah which, in the local tradition, were in two parts, afternoon and evening, with community hymn-singing in between.  The Messiah events involved choirs of up to three hundred.  Sometimes extra chairs were needed to seat the congregation.

In a surprisingly short time at the end of the 1960s there followed a rapid decline, as the Christian population moved to the outlying suburbs and villages and an Asian population replaced them.  The Methodist congregation formed an ecumenical partnership with the parish church of St Andrew and the chapel was sold to the Borough Council for an intended redevelopment plan that was promptly abandoned when Keighley was transferred to the City of Bradford Metropolitan District in 1974.  In that year the Temple Street Chapel was listed Grade II.

The war-memorial stained-glass windows were transferred to the museum at nearby Cliffe Castle and the magnificent Foster & Andrews organ seems to have disappeared, as fine organs did and sometimes still do.

The oak war-memorial board also disappeared, but was reclaimed in remarkable circumstances in 2015:  Temple Street | Men of Worth.

Temple Street was sold in 1978 and became the Shahjalal Mosque, and remains after all a place of worship.

American Church Berlin

Luther Church, Schöneberg, Berlin, Germany

Public transport in Berlin has several layers. 

There are buses, though in two visits I’ve only ever boarded one.  Rail is faster and more comfortable – trams in the former East Berlin, alongside the U-Bahn (underground railway) and the S-Bahn (overground railway).  Some services duplicate each other’s routes in places, and I found it easier to rely on signage at stops and on vehicles than to try to interpret the incompatible maps.  Ticketing is simple:  the day ticket [tageskarte] offers the run of the system.

I like to take time in any big city simply to hop on a bus, tram or train and see where it goes.  Serendipity takes over at such a point. 

With a couple of hours to spare one afternoon I took a westbound U2 train, trusting that I’d see something interesting when it eventually surfaced outside the central area.  Sure enough, shortly before the train entered Bülowstraße station it passed close by a spectacular brick Gothic church. 

The line went underground shortly afterwards, so I left the train at Wittenbergplatz and backtracked.  Bülowstraße station is a fine Art Noveau structure dating from 1902, part of the city’s first U-bahn route, designed by Bruno Möhring (1863-1929). 

Train services were severed when the Berlin Wall was built, and subsequently the station opened in 1980 as a bazaar and music restaurant which became a vibrant centre for the city’s Turkish community.  The tracks within the trainshed were covered over, and for a few months a vintage streetcar shuttled along the viaduct between Bülowstraße station and a flea-market at Nollendorfplatz station.  The station reopened in 1993.

The tall spire of the church I’d spotted is immediately visible from the street outside the station, though the building itself is difficult to photograph because of the surrounding trees.

It was originally built as the Luther Church [Lutherkirche] (1894), a rich and complex design by Johannes Otzen (1839-1911).  It’s a cross between the Scandinavian Church in Liverpool and the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras. 

The external detail is of the highest quality, though it’s one spire short of a full set of turrets because of wartime bombing, and the interior, rebuilt in 1958-59, is simple and tasteful:  American Church in Berlin – Church in Berlin (foursquare.com)

The church is occupied by the American Church Berlin [https://www.americanchurchberlin.de].  Their pre-war building at Nollendorfplatz was destroyed in 1944, though a vestige survives as a monument. 

If ever I return to Berlin it’ll be at the top of my list to revisit, preferably in the morning when the sun will be better placed, and if possible in winter when the trees are bare.

Zion Graveyard 4

Zion Congregational Church and Sabbath School, Attercliffe, Sheffield (1978)

When I went looking for the site of the Zion Congregational Church in 2017 while reconnoitring my Heritage Open Days Walk Round Attercliffe, all that could be seen through the boundary fence was a twelve-foot-high jungle.

Coincidentally, that was the summer when the group that maintains the undenominational Upper Wincobank Chapel came looking for the burial place of the Chapel’s founder, Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887). 

It took a great deal of work to locate her family tomb, and the group resolved to form the Friends of Zion Graveyard, which quickly purchased and restored the site and made it accessible.

I don’t do gardening, so instead I’ve brought visitors to the Graveyard through my Walks Round Attercliffe and Bus Rides Round Attercliffe and busied myself researching the history of the buildings and the generations of worshippers dating back to the end of the eighteenth century.

During the lockdown period the Friends produced a series of interpretation boards – to which I contributed – to fix to the boundaries of the Graveyard.

These make a significant difference to visitors’ understanding, particularly because the images show how much the surroundings have changed since the 1970s:  two of the congregation’s three buildings have been destroyed, along with all of the surrounding housing.

Visitors to the Zion Graveyard can now take away the information and the pictures in a guide-book, The Story of Zion Graveyard Attercliffe:

Try-out for St Paul’s

St Stephen Walbrook Church, City of London

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was a miraculous human being. 

If central London were obliterated by a sudden disaster nowadays, it’s unlikely that its restoration would be entrusted to a professor of astronomy, but after the Great Fire in 1666 it was the obvious solution.  At that time the best professionals to employ in construction were academics who understood the physics of making buildings stand up.

King Charles II had already consulted Wren, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, over several projects, including a much-needed restoration of the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, when two-thirds of the City was burnt down in five days beginning in the early hours of September 2nd 1666.  Wren surveyed the wreckage, mapped out a comprehensive, radical plan to rebuild and laid it before the King on September 11th.  This adventurous scheme was scuppered because it necessitated wholesale revision of property boundaries.

Nevertheless, Wren – then in his mid-thirties – spent the rest of his long life embellishing London with replacements for the many destroyed parish churches and constructing his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of these parish churches is distinctive as what Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as “a try-out for St Paul’s”.

The site of the medieval St Stephen’s Walbrook was hemmed in on three sides by other buildings and the street, which takes its name from the now-hidden river that runs south into the Thames.  On part of this footprint Wren laid out his biggest London parish church to a largely symmetrical plan and graced it with a top-lit dome.

Pevsner describes in intricate detail the tension Wren contrived between the visitor’s perception of a longitudinal rectangular interior and the overarching centrality of the dome and its supporting columns [Simon Bradley & Nikolaus Pevsner,The Buildings of England:  London 1:  The City of London (Yale University Press 2002), pp 260-261].

It’s a breathtaking space which, despite repeated restorations, retains the integrity of Wren’s intentions in all respects but one.

In 1987 the churchwarden, Peter Palumbo (b 1935), supervised a much-needed refurbishment and reordered the layout, reducing the linearity that Wren intended and emphasising the space beneath the dome.

Lord Palumbo (as he became in 1991) had commissioned the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) to design a white polished stone altar that sits directly beneath the dome.  It gives priest and people the more direct intimacy that suits present-day worship, and contributes to the lively ministry of a London church, which has few if any resident parishioners, literally next door to the Mansion House.

I saw a well-attended weekday lunchtime Choral Eucharist sung by a youthful choir of organ scholars accompanied by the demure playing of a young lady organist.  The place clearly serves the needs of a community of city workers seeking a calming interlude in their working day.  I wish I could have caught the monthly Rush Hour Jazz.

There’s a lot going on at St Stephen Walbrook:  St Stephen Walbrook London – a place of celebration.  It’s the living testament of St Francis of Assisi:  “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words”.

The hollow tooth

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany

In Berlin after 1945 the priorities were necessities.  Half the buildings in the city were uninhabitable and the division of the city into four sectors compounded the difficulties of everyday life.

No-one had much time to consider historical conservation or what was left of the built environment.

And yet, the uproar over the demolition of the Anhalter Bahnhof showed that significant numbers of Berliners were keen to keep some built reminders of the historic city, not least to ensure that the horrors of the end of the war were not forgotten.

The most conspicuous of these reminders is of the course the Reichstag, notoriously burnt down in 1933, almost the last redoubt in the battle for the city in 1945, finally restored in 1999.

In the bustling Kurfürstendamm, however, stands a more poignant reminder of the impact of war – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church [Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche], or rather the blasted remains of its substantial tower, which people call “der hohle Zahn – the Hollow Tooth”.  The church was designed by Franz Heinrich Schwechten, who had made his name with the Anhalter Bahnhof, and it was dedicated in 1895 as a memorial to the first German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888).

Most of the remains of the church were taken down as unsafe after the end of the war, and the architect of the reconstruction, Egon Eiermann (1904-1970), proposed to demolish the old tower but was prevented by a public outcry. 

Instead, alongside a new octagonal church and a separate hexagonal bell-tower (1959-63), the gaunt ruin of the 1895 church stands as a landmark and a symbol of hope and reconciliation.  The walls of the new church are a concrete honeycomb, lit by blue stained glass which floods the interior.  There are six bronze bells in the new tower, the largest of which is inscribed “Your cities are burned with fire.” (Isaiah 1:7) and “But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” (Isaiah, 51:6).

The new church was consecrated on May 25th 1962, the same day that Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in 1940 and rebuilt alongside the ruins, was also consecrated.

The parallels with Coventry Cathedral are powerful, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a recipient of a Coventry cross of nails, which is displayed next to the damaged statue of Christ which stood on the original altar.

The only surviving interior of the 1895 church is the entrance lobby, rich with gilding and mosaics, the cracks resulting from the bombing filled but left visible like Japanese kintsugi [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi]. 

It’s an overbearing space, lightened a little by the contrast of the modern exhibition dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

It’s easy to see why the Allied administrators were not anxious to preserve the unstable walls of the bombed nave, a temple to the aspirations of Wilhelm I’s newly united Germany from which had sprung two world wars.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church lacks the sense of wholeness of Coventry Cathedral, where the ruins of the old become a prelude and a pendant to Sir Basil Spence’s 1962 church, or the integrity of St Martin’s Church, Coney Street, York or St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, where in each case the altered form of the bombed church reminds the visitor of what happened and invites reflection.

But after even a moments’ consideration of the rigours of life in late 1940s Berlin, we must be grateful that some raised their voices and persuaded Egon Eiermann to keep the tower as a reminder of the darkest days of the city’s and the German nation’s history.

Mary Ann Rawson’s legacy

Upper Wincobank Chapel and Old School House, Sheffield

Photo: © Penny Rae

Mary Ann Rawson (1801-1887) was a celebrated campaigner for the anti-slavery movement, who corresponded with such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce and promoted social reforms of all kinds throughout her long life.

The daughter of a prosperous Sheffield refiner of precious metals and the widow of a Nottingham businessman who died young, she was in an extraordinary position, as a woman in early nineteenth-century England, to work to benefit humanity.

She bought back the family home, Wincobank Hall, which had been sold to cover her father’s business difficulties, and lived there with her sister Emily to the end of her life.

Her philanthropy ranged widely and her views were lifelong and determined.  James Montgomery, who had been editor of Sheffield’s radical newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, considered she held “such extreme notions – such extreme views” about total abstinence and the abolition of the death penalty.  She was one of the first, in 1839, to sign the teetotal Pledge.

Though she campaigned nationally and internationally, she also did good on her own doorstep, in particular by selling her silverware to found a school for local children in 1841, and she afterwards financed a school house that “would attract a good School Master”.  In 1880 she established a Charitable Trust to ensure that the building would continue to benefit the community beyond her lifetime.  Her Trust Deed specified that it could be used as a place of worship but must remain undenominational and totally in the control of the congregation.

When the school was superseded by a board school in 1905 the congregation extended it as a chapel, and Mary Ann Rawson’s legacy remains active in making Wincobank a better place.  The Grade II-listed Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel has services each Sunday and hosts social activities during the week:  What’s going on at Upper Wincobank Chapel – Upper Wincobank Undenominational Chapel.

The Chapel trustees, together with members of the Friends of Zion Graveyard, the Friends of Wincobank Hill and local residents are refurbishing the Old School House to provide a community hub and heritage centre, thanks to support from the Veolia Environmental Trust, Sheffield City Council, Sheffield Town Trust, the J G Graves Charitable Trust, the Clothmakers Foundation and South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

Rising costs and increasingly urgent needs, including a warm hub this winter, mean that the working group needs additional funds to complete the scheme. 

If you’d like to contribute, please go to https://www.justgiving.com/cmar-wincobank.

The Friends of Zion Graveyard Annual General Meeting takes place at the Upper Wincobank Chapel, Wincobank Avenue, Sheffield, S5 6BB on Monday December 12th 2022 at 7.00pm.  It’s open to anyone who has connections with the Wincobank community or is interested in the Chapel, the Graveyard.

Edward Pugin’s masterpiece

All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell, Manchester

Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875) was the eldest son of the better-known Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852), and after his father’s early death at the age of forty-one continued the practice until his own early death at the same age.

Augustus Pugin was inevitably a hard act to follow, and though his son’s designs are less intense Edward was prolific and his work is impressive.  He designed over a hundred churches and a few secular buildings, and at the height of his powers he completed seventeen projects in the years 1865-68.

Nikolaus Pevsner identified E W Pugin’s “masterpiece” as All Saints’ Church, Barton-upon-Irwell (actually in Urmston, west Manchester).  Paid for by the local landowner Sir Humphrey de Trafford, 2nd Bt (1808-1866) and his wife Lady Annette at a cost of £25,000, it was built in 1867-68 alongside the de Trafford family’s mortuary chapel (1863).

Edward Pugin had previously built another church for the de Traffords, St Ann, Chester Road, Stretford (1862-7), and within the same few years designed his Monastery of St Francis, Gorton (1866-72), larger in scale but coarser in detail because it lacked the generous funds provided by the de Traffords. 

The exterior of All Saints’ echoes some of his other churches in the North West and elsewhere, with a nave and apsidal chancel and an elaborate bell-turret in the form of a flèche, set diagonally above the west front.

The interior is richly decorated and narrows towards the sanctuary, emphasising the height of the building.  The nave columns are alternately banded with Runcorn red sandstone and buff Painswick stone, and the roof is made of English oak and Savannah pitch-pine.

To embellish the interior as the de Traffords required – “a grand church…erected to the glory of God” – Edward Pugin brought together craftsmen from his father’s favourite ecclesiastical artists, Hardman & Co of Birmingham, including J Alphege Pippett (1841-1903), whose ‘The Adoration of the Lamb’ on the south side of the chancel depicts the de Traffords accompanied by Edward Pugin in medieval dress holding a plan of the church.

The walls of the sanctuary are of Caen stone and the columns of Painswick stone;  the floor is crimson marble and encaustic tile;  the altar itself is built of Caen stone, finished with Carrara, Siena and Devonshire marble, with flights of angels standing on the alabaster tabernacle, its doors marked by a bejewelled cross. 

The surviving nineteenth-century stained glass, disarranged as a result of Blitz damage, is by Powell & Hardman of Birmingham.  The late-twentieth-century glass in the west rose window is unfortunate.

Sir Humphrey’s son and heir sold most of Trafford Park for £360,000 to Ernest Terah Hooley (1859-1947) who became known as “The Splendid Bankrupt”, but retained the western portion, including Barton, until 1924. 

The canal bisected the parish, and the unpredictable closing of the Barton swing-bridge meant that parishioners were frequently delayed to the extent that it became impossible to fix Mass times precisely.  The population gradually moved away:  by the 1950s Catholic churches were opening on the new housing estates, and All Saints’ remained open only out of deference to an ageing congregation who had worshipped there all their lives.

All Saints’ finally closed as a parish church in 1961, and in September 1962 it was handed over to the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual, who had provided priests for the parish since 1928.  They renamed it the Church of the City of Mary Immaculate, but it is still commonly known by its original dedication.  The church was listed Grade I on May 9th 1978.

All Saints’ isn’t easy to visit because the site is an operational friary.  It’s open on an occasional basis, and it would be prudent to enquire about arrangements before visiting:  https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/church/all-saints-friary-barton-upon-irwell. Though not as heavily atmospheric as Augustus Pugin’s masterpiece, St Giles’ Roman Catholic Church, Cheadle, Staffordshire, it’s a very beautiful building by a first-rate architect whose career stands in the shadow of his father’s work.

A dream for an architect

St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Wetherby: sanctuary
St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Wetherby: Celebration Window

I first met the architect Vincente Stienlet in Sheffield in 2015 when the Hand Of team who promoted the Abbeydale Picture House Revival invited him to watch a silent film in the cinema his grandfather, Pascal J Stienlet, had designed in 1920.

Together we watched The Call of the Road, the very first film shown in the building, accompanied by a live pianist, and we’ve kept in touch ever since.

Recently Vincente invited me to accompany the Northern Architectural History Society when they visited St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Wetherby, which he designed and which was dedicated in 1986.

The chance to explore a building with the person who designed it is unmissable, and I was doubly blessed because when I arrived early I met the parish priest, the Very Rev Canon John Nunan, who took me on a liturgical tour of Vincente’s distinctive church.

When the NAHS coach arrived I then experienced a parallel tour with Vincente explaining to the group the structure as well as the symbolism.  The two commentaries fitted hand in glove.

At the beginning of the 1980s the parish had reached the point where their modest Gothic 1882 church, designed by Edward Simpson of Bradford, could no longer serve the growing congregation:  it seated 150, and every Sunday four Masses in succession were celebrated for up to six hundred worshippers.

The old St Joseph’s stands on a cramped and oddly shaped patch of land, alongside a former Methodist manse which had become the presbytery in 1939.  The only available space for expansion was the modest gap between the two buildings and behind that the unused presbytery garden.

Vincente’s response was to design a polygonal tent that connects the two buildings and occupies very nearly every square foot of land the parish possessed.

The gap between the old building, which became the parish hall, and the presbytery is filled by an imposing narthex, leading beneath the gallery to the worship space that embraces the visitor and draws the eye to the Baptistery, the place of admission to the faith.

On the wall behind the baptistery hang the Stations of the Cross – bold, chunky, enigmatic elm, carved with a chainsaw, designed by the artist Fenwick Lawson as an uncompromising reminder of the sacrifice of the Crucifixion.

The Stations of the Cross lead the eye rightwards to Fenwick Lawson’s Risen Christ, mounted on a beam above the High Altar.  Representing the triumph of the Resurrection it’s not a crucifix as such:  the crossbeam has been removed from the outstretched arms and the figure looks left extending an open hand towards the light gained by two south-facing gables, and beyond to the Celebration Window, by Fenwick Lawson’s son Gerard, gold and green, portraying a sunburst over the blue ribbon of the River Wharfe and the red of the roads crossing at Wetherby combining to make the PX symbol that the early church used for Christ’s name.

Canon Nunan described Vincente’s building to me as “a theological statement”.  It stands for the faith it belongs to, and it works as a practical structure.

You need an architect to tell you that the Gerard Lawson’s window is double-glazed, separated by a metre-wide space from the external glazing to suppress traffic noise, and that the beautiful polished teak that furnishes the Sanctuary was recycled from the handrails of the Byker Bridge near to his office in Newcastle.

There is more, much more to this superb church which, like a finely tuned instrument, calms the spirit and inspires reflection.

I was privileged to understand it – at least a little – with Canon Nunan, who this year celebrates his Golden Jubilee and is about to begin his well-earned retirement, and with Vincente Stienlet who describes it, in his book A Life in Architecture (Pascal Stienlet & Son Architects 2020), as “a dream for an architect”.