Building » Leicester – Holy Cross

Leicester – Holy Cross

Wellington Street, Leicester LE1

The church of Holy Cross is part of the Priory of the Dominican Order, which played a leading part in the Catholic Revival in and around Leicester. The present priory church is a substantial mid-twentieth century brick building in the Gothic style with a stately interior. In a Catholic context it is notable for its associations with Vincent McNabb OP, a prominent Catholic writer and apologist in the interwar years. The church makes a positive contribution to the New Walk Conservation Area.

The Dominicans or Black Friars first came to Leicester around 1247 and established a priory near what is now Blackfriars Street. In 1538 the priory was sequestered and the monks dispersed. In 1657 Fr Philip Howard established the Priory of the Holy Cross at Bornhem in Flanders to train friars for the English mission. Fr John Clarkson began the English mission to Leicester in 1746 and later a Mass centre was established in a house at the corner of Wellington Street and Dover Street. The first Holy Cross church was opened in 1819 in a small church built by Joseph Ireland. This was in a simple lancet Gothic style; it was later enlarged in more ecclesiologically correct style by J. A. Hansom (1848-9) and C. A. Buckler (1879), and became the priory church in 1882. It was converted into a parish centre in 1980 by Thomas E. Wilson. The complex also includes a school building of 1886.

The present church was built under the auspices of the notable Catholic apologist and author Prior Vincent McNabb OP. The choir and transepts were finished in 1931, from designs by the London architectural firm of Arthur Young and Alan Reid. This work was described in the Diocesan Yearbook for 1931. Lack of funds and the intervention of war prevented the completion of Young & Reid’s design. The nave and west front were finally built in 1956-8 under the direction of a London architect, Alan Sharp (who had worked elsewhere for the Dominicans), who broadly followed the pre-war design but used a steel frame instead of loadbearing walls and concrete for the facing and pillars. Stone was used only for the window tracery. The cost of this work was approximately £50,000 (it had been estimated that it would cost £140,000 to complete the design in traditional materials and construction).


The church is in a modern version of the Perpendicular Gothic style, built in two phases on either side of the Second World War. The first phase (sanctuary and crossing) was built using traditional materials and construction, while the second phase (nave and west front) was built more cheaply using modern methods. On plan the church comprises a tall nave and chancel under a continuous pitched roof with plain parapets, broad transepts with battlemented parapets and substantial eastern chapels of which the northeast chapel has a pitched roof and the southeast chapel a low roof, both with plain parapets and aisles to the nave on both sides. The eastern parts of the church are faced with pink brick, the later nave and aisles with mauve brick, with stone dressings and window tracery throughout.  The tall gabled west end wall has a large five-light traceried window above a broad door with under a four-centred moulded arched.   The nave aisles and clerestories both have four windows each side of three traceried lights and are otherwise bare of ornament and unbuttressed. The broad low transepts each have three three-light traceried windows in their end walls, divided by stepped buttresses. The lower eastern chapels have three large windows of similar form although there is a small octagonal stair tower at the junction of the south transept and south chapel. The tall sanctuary which rises clear of the transepts has five large clerestorey windows on each side. The east end wall of the sanctuary has flanking octagonal turrets and a broad seven-light traceried window.

The interior is tall and stately. The nave has four-bay arcades of thin pointed arches on flat clustered piers with pilaster-shafts rising to the timber wagon ceiling which is painted white. There is a western gallery for the organ; the space below has been enclosed with a glazed screen. The arcades are continued across the transepts with two arches and into the chancel with three arches on each side.The eastern arcades are more elaborate than those of the nave, with moulded stone pointed arches and wall-shafts terminating in large timber angels supporting the timber wagon roof, which is unpainted and elaborately carved. Behind the high altar is a screen of three more pointed arches behind which is an ambulatory and there are also three-bay arcades between the transepts and the eastern chapels, which all have timber ceilings. The fittings are generally simple; the floor is parquet, the benches of standard pattern and most of the windows clear glazed.

Heritage Details

Architect: Young & Reid; A. Sharp

Original Date: 1928

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed