Heritage Open Days at the Holy Name

Volunteer Adam shows a group around the baptistry
Volunteer Adam shows a group around the baptistry

The Holy Name Church in Manchester, serving the Manchester Universities’ Catholic chaplaincy, has had a busy week.  The second half of September heralds the arrival of thousands of students, new and returning, as the new academic year gets underway. 

Alongside welcoming new students, the Holy Name Church took part in Heritage Open Days 13-22 September – an annual national celebration during which heritage buildings are opened to the public. 

“Of course the doors of the Holy Name are always open from 9.30 to 5pm every day, and people have always come in to pray or just to admire the church, but for Heritage Open Days we wanted to do a bit more to explain and celebrate the beauty of our church and its role in the community over the past 150 years,” explained Fr Brendan Callaghan SJ, Superior of the Manchester Jesuit community.

Earlier this year the north transept underwent extensive repairs and restoration to the roof and internal walls.  The original architects’ drawings, which had been rescued from the organ loft, were conserved and digitised. And the team also delivered Your Holy Name Story, a memory project to find out more about the life of the church during its heyday as a parish, before local housing was cleared to make way for the universities.  A temporary exhibition was mounted in the north transept to celebrate the completion of the work and to explain why it was necessary and what was learned, as well as sharing some of the Your Holy Name Stories.

“This year we have lots to celebrate and many interesting stories to tell,” said Fr Brendan, “so we wanted to share this with as many people as possible. We are delighted with the response. Many people who remember the church from its days as a busy parish have come down and reconnected – it has been very moving to witness.  And of course at this time of year we always have a lot of new students and their parents coming in as they explore the area.  Some have never been in a church before.  It was good to be able to show them around and offer more information.”

Exhibition and visitors

Over the week around 1700 people (not including those attending services) of all ages and backgrounds visited the church to see the exhibition, have a tour of the church, chat to welcomers or listen to talks by architect Mark Pearce and archivist Mary Allen.

One visitor, Michael, who grew up locally with a large extended family which ran a rooming house for new Irish immigrants, said, “I love coming in here, it’s the peace and the memories.  I was baptised here.  It more than just a church – it’s cathedral-like.”  Another was also moved by the memories provoked by the church, “It is wonderful the peace you get from this church and the memories, sitting here.  My mum and dad, brother and sister all gone now but it’s wonderful how close they feel.”

Jane Hellings, who organised the Heritage Open Day programme for Holy Name said, “we had lots of visitors who said they had walked past the church every day for years and this was the first time they had come in; and others, particularly new students from China, who had heard about churches but never been inside one before. One young man seemed amazed and stayed for over an hour observing a service.”

Several student volunteers helped with welcoming and giving tours.  Post graduate Theology student Adam, who was born and brought up locally, commented, “Visitors spoke of strong familial and community ties with both the church and the area that went back many generations, and that are still maintained to this day, even though the nature of the area has altered beyond recognition. Many visitors were international students with their families, drawn in by the magnificent architecture and the hope that they would find friendship, hospitality and a community base in Manchester - showing that while the nature of the area may have changed, the Holy Name remains a dynamic spiritual and community hub”.        

Touring the organ loft