Building » Burnley – St Mary Magdalene

Burnley – St Mary Magdalene

Gawthorpe Road, Burnley BB12

A modern church built after the predecessor building of 1904 had to be demolished for the M65. It has several furnishings from the old church, including a fine carved reredos of c.1938 of Austrian oak. The compensation from the Highways Authority also paid for a second church: St Teresa’s church (qv), of nearly identical design.

In 1883, a school-chapel was founded by Canon Rimmer and served from St Mary, Burnley. The trustees of the Towneley Estate gave £300, St Mary’s £822, and Canon Rimmer £1,229 towards the cost of £2,400. In 1887, it was made a separate mission with Fr Raymond the first mission priest. By 1901, the building had become too small and fundraising began for a new church. The foundation stone was laid on 23 April 1904 by Dr Casartelli, Bishop of Salford, who also opened the finished building on 11 December the same year. The new church was in Haslam Street, near the old school-chapel, on a plot bordering the railway line. The presbytery was behind the church. It is not quite clear who the architects were: Graham names Messrs Hitchon and Pritchard of Burnley, while Child gives James Pickup of Burnley as the architect. The church and presbytery cost £5,000.

A high altar was blessed on 16 May 1915. This came from St Augustine’s church, Burnley, but the marble altar with the date 1662 had originally been brought from Italy by Vittore Zanetti, founder of the Zanetti firm of Manchester. William Heatley of Brindle Lodge had presented the altar to St Augustine’s. In 1938, the altar went to St Kentigern, Manchester (qv), when a new high altar was installed at St Mary Magdalene’s for the Golden Jubilee of 1937. It was blessed on 18 December 1938 by the Rt Revd Abbot Toner, C.R.P. of Corpus Christi Priory, Manchester. The altar was of white marble and the reredos of Austrian oak, carved with a representation of St Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. As part of the post-Vatican II changes, a timber forward altar, and timber lectern were installed.

In 1967, the first demolitions took place in the neighbourhood, in preparation for the construction of the M65. In June 1971, it was confirmed that the presbytery and church were to be demolished as well. In 1975 the schools moved to a new site. It was decided to build two new churches with the compensation money from the Highways Authority (now the Highways Agency): a new church of St Mary Magdalene, and a church dedicated to St Teresa of the Infant Jesus (qv). Both were designed by Desmond Williams & Associates in a near-identical style and plan form, which were meant to reflect the common origin of the two new churches in the old parish of St Mary Magdalene. The last Mass was held at the old church on 13 July 1980. The new church was opened and dedicated by the Auxiliary Bishop of Salford, Rt Revd Geoffrey Burke on 23 July 1980. The new church had an attached presbytery and a multi-function narthex. Several furnishings were installed from the old church, including the reredos, the altar frontal showing the Last Supper, statues of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, the font, and the paschal candlestand. The brass altar rail went to St Teresa’s church. The total cost of the new St Mary Magdalene’s church was around £400,000.

In 2005, the parish priest of St Mary Magdalene’s church took over the care of the parish of St Augustine. In 2007, the two parishes were formally combined, with the parish priest living at the presbytery beside the church of St Mary Magdalene.


The church faces north. This description follows conventional liturgical orientation, i.e. as if the altar was at the east.

The walls of the church are faced in bricks, whose beige grey colour was chosen to harmonise with the local building stone. The plan is square, with an attached square narthex to the west, the sacristy to the north (between the church and the square-plan presbytery). Presbytery, church and narthex have separate pyramidal roofs of slate – that of the church being the highest – while the sacristy has a pitched roof. The main elevation of the church is that to the liturgical north which faces Gawthorpe Road. It has a group of three windows with projecting brick mullions and a circular window further east.

The steel trusses of the roof are hidden internally by a timber ceiling, which is open in front of the sanctuary to allow natural light in through roof lights. There are four slit windows to the south, and to the west two oblong windows and one square one. At the northeast is the timber Lady Altar with an octagonal marble font. The sanctuary has a modern marble altar and lectern. The 1938 reredos is placed against the east wall. Carved of Austrian oak, and possibly of Austrian craftsmanship, it shows the crucified Christ and St Mary Magdalene in the centre compartment above the canopied tabernacle. On either side are musician angels in canopied niches. On the gradine below the tabernacle are two freestanding kneeling angels, possibly later additions.

The Stations are painted timber reliefs mounted on arched panels. On the south side of the church are two confessionals and a Sacred Heart shrine. Opposite the northwest entrance hangs the marble relief of the Last Supper (based on Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco), which used to be the altar frontal in the old church. The church has a woodblock floor. A statue of Our Lady is placed in front of the circular window.

Heritage Details

Architect: Desmond Williams & Associates

Original Date: 1980

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed