Our Beautiful Church

A Tour of St Wilfrid's

The Chapel Street facade echoes the elaborately moulded framing of the entrance of the doorways. Running along the string course is the repeated design of a fylfot cross or a swastika, a long-standing religious symbol in many cultures. It should also be noted that the symbol here faces to the left, and not to the right like the one associated with political events of the Third Reich in the twentieth century.

Two massive carved wooden sculptures installed here are of 'St Wilfrids' and 'Hidden Life', by Fenwick Lawson, a Durham artist, born in 1932. The sculptures exhibit an intensity of emotions which reflect the artist's deep concern for the human condition.

Entering the nave, the magnificence of the interior is overwhelming. Five pairs of monumental Corinthian columns, with Shap granite shafts of greyish-pink colour, support an entablature which almost reaches the roof, and over which is a tunnel vault lit by coved round-headed clerestory windows. This architectural ensemble recalls the beautifully proportioned interior of the Church of the Redeemer (Il Redentore) in Venice, designed by Andrea Palladio in the sixteenth century.

The stained glass windows in St Wilfrid's are particularly fine. Most if not all of them were made by Franz Mayer & Co., of Munich and London. The windows in the south aisle are, from right to left, as follows:

1. St George and St Theresa, to the memory of Theresa Parker, 1912;
2. St Helen and St Nicholas, to the memory of Nicholas and Helen Hayes, 1885;
3. The Death of the Virgin, to the memory of Alice, wife of Robert Moss of Preston, n.d.;
4. St John the Evangelist comforting Mary, to the memory of John Westhead, 1898;
5. St Elizabeth, St Peter and St Agnes, to the memory of Elizabeth Banks, n.d.

The south aisle is perhaps the best position from which to view five Venetian mosaic panels of five Saints, in the upper part of the north wall of the nave. They are, from right to left: 1. St Wilfrid, 2. St Edmund Campion SJ, 3. St Claude La Colombiere SJ, 4. St Thomas More, and 5. St John Fisher. The period of great activity in the enhancing of the church.

At the east end of the south aisle in the Chapel of the Holy Ghost, designed by S.J. Nicholl. It is lined with a light yellow veined marble from Molignes, a golden Sienna marble, and has a skirting of Egyptian Green marble. Immediately behind the altar is a mosaic depicting Pentecost, the central figure being St Peter, which dates from c.1960. The two small stained glass windows depicting St Wilfrid and St Ignatius Loyola, are Mayer & Co., c.1913.

The High Altar is one of the most magnificent in the country. In the apse, massive pilasters of red Algerian onyx support a coffered dome with the inscription IN THE NAME OF JESUS LET EVERY KNEE BOW (a later twentieth-century addition replacing the original Latin text). Arches to left and right have an extraordinary architectural feature of single columns supporting entablatures which have no other purpose than to act as plinths for gilded sculptures of angels. The whole effect, which is almost theatrical, is made all the more so by concealed lighting from above two outer arches leading to the side chapels.

Centrally placed behind the altar is a mosaic of the Risen Christ with ordinary townsfolk - parents, grandparents, children and workers - in a cityscape of Preston, which dates from c.1960, in which the spire of St Walburge's can clearly be seen. A sculpture of St Theresa, the Little Flower, is also in this chapel.


The altar is of white and pink marble, fronted by a central panel enclosing the monogram IHS, and flanked by columns of dark green marble. Centrally placed behind the altar is a tabernacle of white marble, with an arched dome supported by angels. It was designed by J.J. Scoles, who had been involved in the second phase of rebuilding the old church in 1843. The tabernacle can be seen in the photograph of the interior taken c.1865. Above the tabernacle is a large Crucifix after an original by Brunelleschi in the church of Sta. Maria Novella, Florence, and installed by W.C. Mangan, a Preston architect, in 1961. The sanctuary is enclosed by a beautiful altar rail of white veining, which extends left and right to enclose the two side chapels.

From here there is a good view of the organ loft at the west end of the church. The 3 manual organ with its 2090 speaking pipes and 23 voices is one of the finest examples of its kind. In 1879 the organ-builders William Hill&Son undertook a major reconstruction of the original 1839 Davis organ from the old church, converting it into the instrument that is there noe. In 1995 the organ was sensitively restored, repainting the front pipes to their original gold, and revoicing the reed stops to return it to how it must have sounded in 1880. In a gesture of continuity, the balustrade fronting the organ loft once served as an altar rail in the old church.

On the left side of the church there is the Confessional Aisle, at the east end of which is the Lady Chapel, which dates from1880. The Lady Chapel is lined with horizontal bands of golden-brown and white marble. Its main altar was designed by Peter Paul Pugin, son of the famous architect and designer Augustus Welby Pugin. Over this altar is a relief of the Assumption of Our Lady. To the left in the same chapel is an altar with a relief of the Death of St Joseph.

We are grateful to Stephen Sartin for the above text, taken from his booklet 'St Wilfrid's Church'.

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