Building » Liverpool – St Francis Xavier

Liverpool – St Francis Xavier

Salisbury Street, Liverpool L3

One of the major monuments of the Catholic and Gothic Revivals. Designed in a free and inventive Decorated style, with its schools and college (now part of Hope University) this formed part of the most extensive group of religious buildings in the city. Built for the Jesuits by their favoured architect J. J. Scoles, and gloriously extended by Edmund Kirby, the church is a major landmark in the Everton area. Its richly furnished interior is a showpiece of Victorian ecclesiastical furnishing and taste.

In January 1840 St Francis Xavier’s Society was established for the purpose of building a Jesuit church and college. Designs for the church were prepared by J. J. Scoles, favoured architect of the Jesuits, and the foundation stone was laid on 9 July 1845. The church was opened in 1849. It was designed to hold 1,500 worshippers. In 1885-7 the Lady (or Sodality) Chapel was added, to the designs of Edmund Kirby. The poet Gerard Manly Hopkins SJ served here from 1888-90.

By the time of the Second World War, this was the largest Catholic parish in England, with over 13,000 Catholics living within its boundaries. During World War II the area around the  church was heavily damaged by bombing. The church largely escaped this, although in 1948 part of the roof collapsed, apparently as a consequence of wartime damage.

In the 1960s the College relocated, and rehousing programmes led to a huge reduction in the parish population. In the 1980s the archdiocese put forward plans to demolish the building (except for the spire and the sodality chapel), but these were withdrawn in the face of a major national protest.

In 1997 Liverpool Hope University took over the listed former poor schools and college buildings.

In 2001 with the closure of St Joseph’s and St Mary of the Angels, those two parishes joined with St Francis Xavier to form one large new parish. The sodality chapel has been renamed the Chapel of St Mary of the Angels and St Joseph. The University also took over the main body of the church for its own ceremonial occasions, but this has now been handed back to the archdiocese, and continues to be served by the Jesuits.


See also list description, below. This is a Gothic church on a post-Tridentine plan. Designed with a broad nave, a short but elevated chancel and no screen, it provided the large congregation with an open and unobstructed view of the liturgy. The  nave roof rises to 50 feet and is supported on slender columns of polished Drogheda limestone. The church was progressively enriched throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scoles designed the high altar and the Rosary altar, and provided for the gradual introduction of side altars as funds became available. The hanging rood under the chancel arch is by Earley & Powell, 1866. The Sacred Heart Chapel was designed by S. J. Nicholl. Kirby’s Lady Chapel is 80 feet long and is built and elaborately furnished in Early English style. In the chancel, the altar of the Annunciation has marble reliefs by Messrs Boulton of Cheltenham, and a tabernacle and reliefs by Conrad Dressler.

Stained glass: Three sanctuary windows with scenes from the life of St Francis Xavier, replacing those destroyed in the Blitz, by John Hardman studios, 1943-45; above the organ gallery, Christ the King, 1930 by Hardman & Powell; west end of the south aisle, Window of the Hidden Saints, depicting chief events in the history of the parish, commissioned for the 150th anniversary, 1999, by Linda Walton; in the sodality chapel, glass designed by Kirby and made by Burlison & Grylls.

List description


Catholic church. 1845-9. J. J. Scoles, the Lady Chapel added 1888 by E. Kirby. Stone with slate roof. Geometrical. Name with aisles under separate roofs, short chancel flanked by chapels with Lady chapel to ‘SE’ (ritual ‘W’ is actual N). Tower to south west has spire. Aisles have 2-light windows, north aisle has 8 to north , one to west. Nave has 4-light west windows and wheel window above, no clerestory. Tower has set-back buttresses and pointed
arched entrances to south. 3-light bell openings and recessed spire behind altered parapet has lucarnes and diapered bands; 4 pinnacles at the angles of tower. Chancel of one bay has canted end with 2-light windows. Lady chapel is of 2 bays with canted corner bays. Buttresses end in pinnacles, 2 light windows; 3-light west window.

Interior: Nave has 7-bay arcades on slender marble columns (now painted). Wagon roof with iron ties. Chancel arch. North aisle has trefoil heads to confessional entries. High altar and reredos by S. J. Nicholl of white marble, with arcading and pinnacles. Altar rails of coloured marble. Rood under
chancel arch. Caen stone pulpit on south side of nave. Chapels have altars and reredoses similar to High altar. Elaborate stone font at west end of nave. Lady chapel has apsidal ends to west and east, that to east forming
ambulatory with arcade on marble columns. Marble wall shafts and ribbed plaster vault. Tabernacle doors said to be by Conrad Dressler. An important church in the alternative tradition to that of A. W. Pugin, and a good,
largely unaltered example of Scoles’ work.

H. R. Hitchcock, Early Victorian Architecture, 1954, p.90.

Listing NGR: SJ3563691165

Heritage Details

Architect: J. J. Scoles, Edmund Kirby

Original Date: 1848

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II*