Jesuit churches welcome visitors on Heritage Open Day

Fr Pearsall SJ with visitors in the organ loft
Fr Pearsall SJ with visitors in the organ loft

Last weekend saw the national celebration of Heritage Open Day – the largest festival of history and culture in the UK, bringing together over 2,500 organisations, 5,000 events and 40,000 volunteers. Every year for four days in September, places across the country throw open their doors to celebrate their heritage, community and history.

This year two of our Jesuit churches participated: St Francis Xavier’s in Liverpool and the Holy Name in Manchester.

The Holy Name has just reopened following extensive works to remove asbestos from the crypt.  It is the first time they have participated in Heritage Open Day. “It was a marvellous way to celebrate the re-opening following eight weeks of closure” said Fr William Pearsall SJ, assistant chaplain, who gave tours of the church throughout the day, “we had about 75 visitors despite the terrible weather, and they especially loved going up into the organ loft and seeing into both sides of the confessional.  We also displayed some of the original architect’s drawings by Joseph Hansom and people were fascinated by these.”

Fr Pearsall had explored some of the extensive historic archives in the church, and displayed a small exhibition of photographs and ephemera from the church’s 150 year history, first as a parish and then from 1960 as the church of the University Catholic chaplaincy.  “I was very pleased with the response to the exhibition” commented Fr Pearsall, “it is a good first step for us as we develop a wider project to engage local people and visitors more with the heritage of the church as part of our Heritage Lottery funded restoration project which is now underway.”

Bernard Blackburn and tour guide Mary Pearson at the shrine SFX in Liverpool was open over three days and has been participating in Heritage Open Days for ten years. SFX was recently the location for filming of the BBC TV series of Broken starring Sean Bean, which was written by Liverpool’s very own Jimmy McGovern, and around 300 people came “location-spotting” and to enjoy a cup of tea and tour of the church by one of a team of experienced tour guides from the  parish community. 

Sculptor Bernard Blackburn was one of the visitors.  He created the beautiful shrine dedicated to St Mary Del Quay installed on the 800th anniversary of the City of Liverpool in 2007.   Friends of SFX Church member, Judith Callaghan commented “It is always nice to welcome visitors who often surprise us with their own stories of the building and community which add to what we already know about the church”.