Banquet in Gorton Monastery
Gorton Monastery reborn
For a staunch Catholic like Agnes Bracher, it was a crisis of faith. For years, she just didn’t believe. Until it happened. The day Gorton Monastery was born again.
It’s taken over a decade, but the £6m campaign to restore the historic Monastery of St Francis and Gorton is almost complete. Manchester’s ‘Taj Mahal’, has finally re-opened, not as a church, but for hire as a conference venue.
Monument: Gorton Monastery
And on Monday 25 June 2007, the Monastery welcomed in the Gorton community who have supported its restoration but were left devastated by its decline. People like Agnes Bracher, school secretary at the nearby St Francis Primary:
“It was a place you came to school, and it was an active parish, where there were things going on for children and adults each evening, so it was your social life as well. Those memories were all still there, and it was just so sad. That was my feeling when it closed: just pull it down because it would never be what it was built for. And I’ve held those feelings until I came in today.”
Agnes knows Gorton Monastery of old. By the time its final mass was held in 1989, the building had witnessed many of her rites of passage into adulthood. Agnes still hopes it will play an important role in Gorton once again.
“I was baptized here, had first Holy Communion, confirmed here and married here. Who knows, they may even bring me in here when I die! That’ll be the full circle.” she said.
Adding: “It just held people together. I sometimes get the feeling that sometimes children miss that; that beautiful feeling that 'here’s where we belong'. And I’d like to see children get back to that.”
Gorton Monastery, built in 1872 by the architect Edward Pugin, is widely recognised as a Catholic masterpiece. But its fate looked sealed in the 1970s when, under a programme of housing renewal, the surrounding back-to-back terraces were pulled down and the local community dispersed.
Eventually, the Franciscan Brothers departed and the buildings were sold to property developers for conversion into flats. But the scheme failed and vandals moved in, damaging most of the interior of the church including many important artefacts and fittings.
Twelve statues of saints, originally located along the walls of the nave, turned up for auction as garden ornaments at Sotheby's.
However, in 1996, the Monastery of St Francis and Gorton Trust was set up to raise the £6m to restore the Grade II listed building. The campaign grew support and in 1997 the World Monuments Fund designated the Monastery of St Francis as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World along with the Taj Mahal and Pompeii.
And after years of fundraising, and two years of careful restoration, Gorton Monastery is back in business again for hire as a conference and banqueting venue.
It’s already held a banquet for the city’s business leaders, and is taking bookings ranging from a catwalk show by Boss modelling agency to community events. It’s a new lease of life for a much-loved building. But is it what the Gorton community wants?
"I still have mixed feelings over that, because I’ll always think of it as a church," said Agnes.
"It will never be what it was, and what it was built for. But there is a need in the community, maybe to lift the people of Gorton; for concerts, things like that.
"This was the heart of Gorton… and I’d like to see people coming back to it. Not for the reason it was built, it never will be that. But I’d like the feeling that the Franciscans brought to the community. Maybe it will bring the community back together again."
last updated: 14/04/2008 at 17:45
Have Your Say
Do you live in Gorton? What do you think of the Monastery's restoration and its new lease of life?