Beyond the Building: The Hidden Gem

Name: The Hidden Gem (officially, St Mary’s RC Church)

Location: Mulberry Street, Manchester

Written by: Owen McKenna

The facts: Officially opened on 30 November 1794, St Mary’s is the second oldest church in Manchester. A lot has changed in the last 200 years since its construction, not least the slum dwellings which originally surrounded it being replaced by the tall office buildings of the commercial centre of Manchester.

Any interesting details: The red brick exterior and ornate bell tower give nothing away as to what is hidden inside: majestic Victorian carvings, a High Altar made of marble and many finely carved, marble, life-sized sculptures. The church’s design is said to be a blend of Norman, Gothic and Byzantine detail.

Controversy: In 1833 the then Rector decided to give the church a make-over. Instead of commissioning an architect, he used some of the men from the parish who were in the “building trade”. Things started well enough but on the evening of 8 August 1835, the church dome apparently showed signs of cracking and shortly thereafter it, and most of the roof, collapsed, causing significant damage to the church. It was not until 1844 that works started to rebuild the church, with two architects reportedly being consulted, Richard Lane and the now much more famous Augustus Pugin. But it was Lane’s design that was selected (at a cost of £265 17s 0d) and the church was finally re-opened in 1848.

It’s possible Pugin wasn’t too thrilled about losing the commission, because he’s reputed to have described the church’s design as being one which “shows to what depth of error even good men fall, when they go whoring after strange styles”. Ouch.

Do say: “I agree with Bishop Vaughan – no matter on what side of the church you look, you behold a hidden gem.”

Don’t say: “I’m with Pugin on this one.”

Admiring the buildings of yesterday, supporting the real estate visionaries of today.