Saints Preserved

AngelBusy day yesterday, what with trying to catch the last events of London 2012 and make the most of the last of the Heritage Open Days. Quite a juggling act.

In between the marathon and murder ball, I was able to visit one of the most impressive buildings in Manchester – Gorton Monastery.

Like Clayton Hall, it is one of the less salubrious parts of town, but it certainly isn’t hidden away, something that would be hard to do given the cathedral-like proportions of the place.

It was built between 1863 and 1867 by the Franciscans who arrived in the area to minister to the Catholic community. In fact, its name is misleading as it wasn’t a monastery at all – a friary would be a more accurate description as the brothers did not lead cloistered lives.

Gorton MonasteryIt was designed by Edward Welby Pugin who was a dab hand at churches, but most of the work was done by the Franciscans and local people to keep down building costs.

The sheer size of the place is one of the things that make it so impressive with its high vaulted ceiling as you can see from the photo on the right.

In its heyday, the monastery ran three schools, a parish hall, youth clubs, theatre and music groups, choirs, brass bands as well as being the social and spiritual focus of the community.

But by the 1970s the area that had once been a centre for heavy industry was in decline and the old terraced housing was demolished, leaving the monastery isolated.

Christ on the CrossThere were just six elderly friars living there in 1989 and the monastery was finally closed. It was bought by developers who intended converting it into flats, but this fell through. Left unprotected, the building was vandalised and picked over for its lead and anything else that could be sold and in 1997 it was placed on World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.

It is a miracle that it survived and this is entirely down to the volunteers and local people set up a preservation trust to save the building as it is today.

You can read more about the monastery on Wikipedia or on their own website because I really wanted to say something about the saints.

Monastery WindowsAmong the items that the developers stripped out were the sandstone statues of twelve saints that stood high on either side of the church. They turned up in a Sotherby’s catalogue in 1994 as desirable ‘garden statuary’ and would have been sold but for the determination of a volunteer and Manchester City Council.

After a protracted battle, the statues were returned to Manchester, but that was just the beginning. They needed extensive restoration work through funds raised by the trust.

They were finally returned to their place in the monastery twelve months ago.  I only learned their story after reading The Return of the Saints that I bought when I visited yesterday. Which doesn’t really explain how I managed to miss Saint Bernadine of Sienna, something which I intend to put right before too long!

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • Rhodes Scholar-Pudding 10th September 2012

    Dear Cecil,

    An interesting excursion and thanks for sharing this story with us. I’m wishing I’d gone to see something. Last time you mentioned Heritage Open Days it inspired me and Mrs Pudding to visit hidden parts of Sheffield Archives but this weekend we were distracted by the wedding and associated alcoholic beverages.

    Best regards,
    Rhodes Scholar-Pudding

  • rhymeswithplague 10th September 2012

    But who are they? Do they have names? Pray, tell us.

  • Mr Parrot 10th September 2012

    They do indeed have names Mr Plague and if you’ll click to enlarge them, you’ll see they are captioned. Whether that makes you any the wiser is another matter!

  • Roger Green 10th September 2012

    Nice to see that you have metal raiders over there too.

  • rhymeswithplague 10th September 2012

    Ah. I thank you for showing us the statues of Saint Bonaventure, Saint Claire of Assisi, Saint Louis of Toulouse, Saint Bernard of Carbio, Saint Didacus, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Saint Ivo of Brittany, Saint Leonard of Port Maurice, Saint Louis (King of France). Saint Peter of Alantara, and Saint Anthony of Padua, only four of whom I had heard of previously.

  • Trevor Rowley 10th September 2012

    Rum neighbourhood is Gorton. As well as inspiring the creators of Gorton Monastery it was also the district of Manchester which gave us that delightful couple, the “Moors Murderers”, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. He originated in Glasgow but, as a wayward teenager, was sent south to Lancashire to see if Mancunian relatives couldn’t straighten him out. She was born into a relatively ordinary family and, as a teenager, converted to Catholicism (and may well have spent time inside Gorton Monastery). The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Mr Parrot 11th September 2012

    Gorton was a crowded place of back-to-back houses and poverty when Brady and Hidley were there, not that this excuses anything. But I don’t think we can blame the Franciscans either!


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