St Patricks Church, 1 St John Street, Coatbridge

Telephones - House: 01236 606808, Hall: 01236 606116
An expert's View

... a three light window, 30ft tall

... two sets of flanking windows, each 24ft tall

... assist in this illusion of great height

... the polygonal baptistry (Centenary Chapel) lit by single lancets in each wall ...


Philip E Mc Williams MA, PhD, FSA Scot

The present St Patrick's Church belongs to the final period of the Gothic Revival in Britain, which developed through three distinct phases. In the final phase,architects sought to build true Gothic Churches, by using archaeological forms and elements properly researched and based on authentic Gothic churches. Through his writings, AWN Pugin (1812-52) was one of the great prophets of the Gothic Revival.

After A W N Pugin's death, his youngest son, Peter Paul Pugin, is seen as the main driving force in the partnership, Pugin and Pugin, and is credited with the design of St Mary's, Whifflet, opened in 1893; St Aloysius', Chapelhall, in 1894; St Patrick's in 1896; and finally St Augustine's in 1899. Indeed, the four churches could best be described as variations on a theme.

For his church designs Peter Paul Pugin sought inspiration from the late thirteenth/fourteenth century period of architecture in England known as the Decorated. However, considering just how inspired that period of architecture was Pugin's Decorated Style is rather dull in comparison, and the vagueness of his forms and elements do not do justice to his achievements.

Once the decision was taken to build a new St Patrick's Church the obvious site was that on Main Street, the site of the old Church. The tall gabled frontage faces south (in medieval times churches were always built from east to west, as at St Augustine's), and rises high above street level towering over the neighbouring buildings.Pugin designed it that way, using elements to emphasise its height.

The twin deeply perched doorways are reached by steep stairs from Main Street, while above them a three light window, thirty feet high, points towards the small twin light window with a quatrefoil in the apex of the gable, and the coping surmounted by a Celtic finial cross. Stepped buttresses emphasise these soaring lights, while two sets of flanking twin windows, each 24 feet high, assist in this illusion of great height. Yet, it is only in the interior that we see these windows at their best, with the light streaming through. Surely, Pugin conceived such an expanse of windows for the display of stained, or painted glass, for which they are admirably suited. Also, Pugin's design for a traditional main frontage of three storeys defined by string courses also assists the illusion. Furthermore, his use of Gothic elements such as gabled skew-putts, hoodmoulds over the windows, trefoiled lights with mouchettes and cinquefoils above, adds movement and necessary points of interest to the frontage.

At the south east corner, the polygonal baptistry (now the centenary chapel), lit by single lancets to each wall, projects beyond the building line, providing an interesting contrast with the Gothic forms of the church. Here the hoodmoulds merge

with the string course. The addition of a baptistry at the south front is a common element in Peter Paul Pugin's churches, St Augustine's is another example. In the interior of St Patrick's the eastern aisle meets the baptistry, and to the west, the front bay of the aisle is lit by a twin light window with quatrefoil and flanking daggers above. The entrance doorway in the western aisle is no longer in use. The sacristy, which sits to the north west, occupies part of the site of the former presbytery. Its simple single storeyed frontage, with Tudor Style windows, provides quite a contrast with the soaring gable of the church.

The aisles project from the nave, as at Bargeddie Parish Church. However, unlike Bargeddie the flanking aisles at St Patrick's are not just passageways. The aisles, and the clerestory above, are divided into bays by pilaster-like buttresses.

Segmental arched windows, which fill the bays of the eastern aisle, are more suited to Perpendicular tracery than the Decorated which fills them. Only two bays of the western aisle have windows because of confession boxes. The hoodmoulds over the windows in the clerestory merge with the string course. The end

wall of the nave has pinnacled corner buttresses. The keel of the roof is finished with crest tiles, and the apex of the chancel roof is surmounted by a large finial cross of wrought iron.

The polygonal chancel has fenestration to three sides. The north end is lit

by a three light window with trefoliated heads and daggers above, the whole surmounted by a cinquefoil, whereas the flanking sides have twin lights with trefoiled heads, surmounted by a cinquefoil. Without a doubt Pugin has not only created the illusion of height but the combined mass of the aisles, clerestory and chancel make St Patrick's appear to be a much larger church than it really is.

The main porched doorways lead into the entrance porch lit by a three light segmental arched window. This is now a memorial window to Rev Patrick Brosnan, and is appropriately filled with a stained glass window of St Patrick. The porch is conveniently formed by the organ gallery above, its wooden balustrade consisting of open trellis work, the central panels decorated with quatrefoils. Access to the church is afforded by moulded

archways at each side of the porch, the simple mouldings springing from the supporting walls. Once inside the nave, and looking towards the array of arches at the north end, the visitor is confronted by the Gothic ideal, where the emphasis was on verticality. Pugin has certainly achieved this by making use of the traditional Gothic forms, namely the arcading, clerestory, arches and open timber roof, plus the fact that it is an ecclesiologically

correct church, with the seats, in the nave and flanking aisles, facing the chancel, rather than arranged round a pulpit. The two-storey nave is divided by arcading into six bays, as in the medieval period.

The polygonal piers of the nave, with moulded caps and bases (which have been painted), are found in English Decorated churches. Nondescript mouldings spring from the moulded capitals in imitation of the deeper mouldings of Gothic churches. Indeed, the use of such incongruous moulding in the nave arcading of St Patrick's is typical of the work of the later Pugins, and owes little, if anything, to medieval architecture. Above the arcading is the clerestory.

The clerestory, or clear storey, is a very important Gothic form, and one which makes St Patrick's, and her sister churches, stand out from their neighbours, for it is absent in all or most of the churches of the Monklands. Each bay of the clerestory is lit by twin lancets, divided into two-lights by simple tracery with trefoliated heads. A reticulated quatrefoil sits above the twin lights. The wall posts of the open-timbered roof, supported by corbels at clerestory level, effectively divide the clerestory into bays. The string course acts as a dividing element between the upper and lower storeys of the church.

The tall chancel arch is flanked by the arches leading to the aisle chapels. The mouldings of all three arches rise from the bases to the apex of each arch, a form often used in England during the Decorated period. The chancel walls are pierced by tall narrow lancet arches which afford access to the aisle chapels. The arch mouldings spring from the walls. The chancel arch is fronted by responds and a secondary arch which bring much dignity to the chancel area, and is quite typical of the medieval period.

However, the blandness of Pugin's mouldings gives no real

depth to the chancel arch, for in Gothic churches the deep mouldings accentuated the height and depth of such forms by the subtle play of light and shadow.

The five-sided chancel, perhaps French in origin, is dominated by the reredos, also designed by Pugin. The restrained use of the Decorated forms and elements in the church is overshadowed by the exuberance of Pugin's design for the reredos. Here he uses Decorated forms and elements, like crocketed pinnacles and deeply cusped foils, to great advantage. Indeed, his use of so many pinnacles in tiers on the canopies is reminiscent of the west front of the great French Cathedral of Rouen.

A pelican and its brood sit atop the central pinnacle.

The reredos was built by Bolton and Son, Shelton, from Devon beerstone, and is in three tiers. The middle tier emphasises the presence of the sacrament house, with shining brass door. The word Sanctus is carved in German Gothic script in the pediment. It is flanked by twin marble colonnettes. The side panels are filled with sacramental inscriptions, also in German script. The upper

tier consists of two panels supported by three pinnacled niches.

The centre niche, which rises above the sacrament house, is surmounted by a three-sided canopy. The trefoliation is deeply cusped, and the interior is inexplicably painted black. On either side of the corbel, and kneeling just above the sacrament house, are angels elegantly carved in the round, each with its wings slightly folded. Above the kneeling angels are two very neat little angels holding blank shields. They are quite exceptional, considering that they are carved in miniature, and act as supporters of the canopy. The flanking panels are filled with carved and moulded vine leaves and branches, whose symbolism is rather obvious. Indeed, the vine leaves are reminiscent of those at Southwell Minster, but unfortunately the sharpness of the carving, and the detail of each moulded leaf, has been lost by

constant painting of the beerstone. The flanking niches, with dark green marble colonnettes and white marble shaftings, are again inexplicably painted black. The niches are filled with life-size statues carved in the round from Caen stone, St Patrick to the left and the Archangel Michael to the right. The black painted niches
fail to draw attention to the three dimensionality of the figures.The paint also alters the texture such that in the light they shine when perhaps they should not.

The altar frontal is a fundamental part of the reredos. It is divided into three panels to fit the original altar table. Each panel is filled with bas-relief sculpture, the hand of God to the left, the Lamb of God in the centre, and Corpus Christi represented by the Chalice and Host to the right. Symbols of the crucifixion are also visible on the reredos. To the lower right of the reredos is a little trefoiled and canopied aumbry, the trefoil deeply cusped. The interior of the aumbry is decorated with beautifully carved and moulded tablet flower in miniature, very much in the spirit of the English Decorated. The corresponding aumbry on the lower left is closed off with a rather neat little door. Pugin's reredos is undoubtedly an excellent example of Gothic Revival decoration, and worthy of his father A W N Pugin, who was largely responsible for the interior decoration of the new Houses of Parliament (1840-60).

However, the unfortunate painting of the beerstone and the sculpture, together with the rather liberal use of cheap gold paint,

detracts from Pugin's wonderful achievement. The chancel ceiling, and upper reaches of the chancel walls, are decorated with symbols representing the mysteries of Christ's life, death and resurrection.

The high altar was erected in 1902 in memory of Canon Michael O'Keefe, at a cost of over £500. The green fronted marble altar stone decorated with a gold encircled cross, was supported by the twin marble colonnettes on which it stands today, but it originally stood before the reredos. The altar was moved forward to take account of the liturgical changes inaugurated by Vatican II.

The lecterns have been refashioned from the original pulpit. The pulpit was built with contrasting marble, highly polished, its panels filled with blind arcading with trefoils, the quatrefoils above deeply cusped.

The two aisle chapel altars were erected in January 1905. Again the designer was Peter Paul Pugin, and the builders were once more Bolton and Son of Shelton. The reredos of each was again

cut from Devon beerstone (also liberally painted),each consisting of a central niche with flanking panels. The aisle chapel to the left is dedicated to the Virgin Mary,

and was erected in memory of John Canon McCay; that to the right is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, commemorating the parents of the O'Hear family.

Our Lady of Lourdes, also cut from Caen stone, fills the central niche of the Lady Chapel, and is painted too. The flanking panels consist of daggers and trefoils, with contrasting marble. The altar is supported by marble columns, and the frontal is divided into three panels, the centre panel filled with lilies in bas-relief, while the side panels have stylised crosses formed by four deeply cusped quatre-foils. The niche of the altar in the Sacred Heart Chapel sits above a sacrament house, again with a shining brass door. The canopied niche is fronted by a deeply cusped cinquefoil. The flanking panels consist of deeply cusped and encircled mouchettes over two smaller panels filled by dainty kneeling angels, beautifully sculpted in bas-relief, against a background of contrasting marble. The altar is supported on two

marble colonettes, the frontal decorated with trellis work.

The high altar with flanking aisle chapels is a medieval concept, and this is Pugin's precedent, for by uniting the aisle chapels to the chancel, using arches, he is adding another dimension to his design. Indeed, he is closely identifying the arcading throughout the church with the chancel and aisle chapel arches, such that they become a unifying element, where everything leads towards and ends at the altar where the Eucharistic mysteries are performed. This is really the underlying momentum which has encouraged the development of ecclesiastical architecture since the Church became the official religion of Rome and its empire.

St Patrick's ought to be a fine example of the final phase of the Gothic Revival, yet it is not, for as the forms and elements used in St Patrick's Church and others illustrate, Peter Paul Pugin did not follow his father's precepts. Nor can his designs be said to copy, never mind capture the spirit of the English Decorated, as seen in some of the great English cathedrals or parish churches. Indeed, it can be said that his church designs consist of forms and elements peculiar to himself. Moreover, apart from the encircled daggers

lighting the aisle chapels, he made no attempt to capture the spirit and beautiful character of reticulated and flowing tracery of the Decorated period, which is found in the intricacy and deep cusping of reticulated and flowing tracery.

Even though St Patrick's cannot be described as a classic example of Gothic Revival architecture, it is nevertheless, a rather dignified church both on the exterior and in the interior. In appearance St Patrick's, like its sister churches, was quite different from any church previously built in the Monklands, for as designed by Pugin it consisted of a nave, aisles, chancel, baptistry and sacristry. Also the fact that it sits high above Main Street at the top of flights of steep stairs, accentuates its height, as does its sets of tall narrow windows; and since it occupies a prime site in the town centre it is constantly in the public eye. In its own way it is a remarkable building, and the fact that is now a grade B Listed gives greater credence to that statement, and also further adds to its status as the most prominent church in town.

Dr. Philip E Mc Williams, PhD

saint patricks, main street view
saint patricks, side street view