A Strange Encounter In Church One Day

In 1848, a brand new church opened in Everton.

These times were prosperous and so was the area, in an expanding city in the 19th century due to the Irish immigration.

The parish became one of the largest in the country- but now it is one of the poorest.

The church is St Francis Xavier’s one of the many churches I encountered on Heritage Open Day.

And what a beautiful church it was, full of history, full of stunning sculpture, full of uplifting spiritual artistry. A church which looked uncannily like my old college Stonyhurst in the Forest of Bowland.

Too right, as both were related with the church being built specifically for the president of Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit provincial.

Between the planning and building of the church in those early days, the Great Hunger had devastated Ireland and swelled the population of Liverpool.

The church and neighbouring school remained one of the largest Catholic parish in England with over 13,000 Catholics living within it’s boundaries.

However, numbers declined rapidly from the 1960’s as the old housing stock was demolished and communities dispersed.

In the 1970’s there was a national outcry when the church was threatened with demolition.
It was saved by a group determined that an architectural gem which had been the focus for so many Liverpool families in both good and bad times should not be lost.

This was highlighted in 2008 when, as part of Liverpool’s European City of Culture celebrations, SFX hosted ‘Held in Trust’. This exhibition attracted over 11,000 visitors to view the religious and secular treasures which had been in the care of the Jesuits for centuries.

Yesterday, I was approached by a student from Manchester wanting to know about the impact 2008 had on the city and its people.

Yes we had spiders, yes we had tall ships and danced the night away; but these are all but a fond memory now; what we do have today, to see and to touch, is a beautiful historic building that could well have been nothing but ashes without the support and dedicated group of people that supported the continued existence of this architectually important building.


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