Westgate, Wetherby, West Yorkshire
A fine modern church of 1986, with furnishings designed by the architect Vincente Stienlet and the sculptor Fenwick Lawson. Centralised worship space, the design and furnishing replete with symbolism. The church is grafted onto an earlier church by Edward Simpson (now the parish hall) and is sensitively designed to fit within the centre of the Wetherby Conservation Area.
During the 19th century the small number of Catholic families in Wetherby attended the private chapel at nearby Stockeld Park. Peter Middleton had planned to build a chapel in the town but instead concentrated on endowing the church of St Mary Immaculate at Sicklinghall (qv). In 1872 a chapel was opened over the coach house at Pelham House, in Scott Lane, Wetherby. The congregation increased greatly during this period due primarily to Irish immigration and in 1881 it was decided to build a new church. The land was donated by Mr Joseph Hirst and the foundation stone laid late in 1881. The church was built by Edward Simpson of Bradford at a cost of £1,200 and opened by Bishop Cornthwaite in 1882. The first parish priest was Fr Ryan, who by 1929 had cleared the church’s debt of £800. The Presbytery was purchased in 1939.
In 1972 the Mother Parish of Sicklinghall was amalgamated with St Joseph’s.
In 1984 planning approval was obtained to build a new church on the site between the old church and the presbytery. The south gable of the existing church was underpinned and substantial internal improvements were carried out to the presbytery including underpinning. The new church was designed by the architect Vincente Stienlet and was opened and dedicated on 11 October 1986. The interior is notable for its artwork by the Durham sculptor Fenwick Lawson. The building won the Leeds award for Architecture in 1987.
The exterior of the church is built of a natural buff coloured sandstone with a Welsh blue slate roof and leadwork. The main elevation on Westgate presents a sweeping slate roof forming an entrance canopy over the front doors which is itself surmounted by a gable, topped with a galvanised steel cross, designed by the architect. Within the gable is set a lozenge shaped window.
The main doors enter into a full height narthex designed to uplift the spirit and acknowledge the entrance into the House of God. A closed curved concrete staircase gives access to the first floor balcony. Built to the shape of the irregular site the whole of the church interior was conceived by Stienlet to represent an open-plan large tent. This tented, meeting room has a brown carpet symbolising the soil and calico painted walls to represent the fabric of the tent structure. Upon entering, the structure of the church is evident, with the focus immediately centring upon a central column with a spread of steel branch roof supports suggesting a tree of life. The ‘trunk’ is clad in green and white granite tiles laid in a fan pattern which represents a spring of water rising from the font at the base of the column. The circular font bowl is carved in polished black Burlington slate by Mr Brian Johnson with the sunken floor of York stone. A diamond shaped area of glazing is set into the roof above the baptistery and this evokes the entry into Christian life through Baptism. Thus from the first sight of the interior of the church, the architecture, its fittings and works of art represent the journey through the whole of spiritual life. From the baptistery in a line due east lies the sanctuary, a raised semi-circular area to the rear side wall bounded by two brick edged steps up to the altar. The steps represent the hill at Calvary but they have been altered slightly at the top level when the tabernacle was relocated in the 1990s. The altar is of Dunhouse stone and its shape on top reflects the plan of the church, the base is of cast concrete. The tabernacle, by the Welsh sculptor Philip Catfield, was originally placed to the right of the altar but has since been relocated to the left. The roof over the Sanctuary is broken, Stienlet says, “…as if a tent awning were lifted at the edge to let natural light fall on the Altar and Tabernacle…”. This side light highlights the elmwood crucifix carved by Fenwick Lawson which is situated on a concrete beam. The figure is deliberately carved to appear as if Christ is rising again, heightening the sense that the carving is not simply an artwork but also of direct liturgical significance. The Stations of the Cross are also by Fenwick Lawson, the brutality of the Passion expressed by using a chain saw for the carving, contrasting with the softer elements of the building. The Lady Shrine contains a mosaic by Fenwick Lawson with a statue of Our Lady carved out of English alabaster. The elm and ash pews were designed by the architect. The first floor balcony is dominated by the Celebration Window, a painted window which depicts at the base the Dales landscape with the River Wharfe and the crossing of roads at Wetherby which combine to form Christ’s name PX. The centre of the window evokes a monstrance combining yellows and clear glass. The window is designed and painted by Gerard Lawson.
Architect: Vincente Stienlet
Original Date: 1986
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed