Building » Willington – Our Lady and St Thomas

Willington – Our Lady and St Thomas

Cumberland Terrace, Willington, Co. Durham DL15

A large Gothic Revival church of the Edwardian years in a style of c.1300. It is quite conservative in spirit for its date but is boldly massed and has an impressive, spacious interior with striking murals in the sanctuary, added in 1912.

In the 1860s Mass seems to have been said in a room in Raby House on the western outskirts of the village, the home of a local grocer and provisions dealer. In 1873 a chapel-school was completed to the south of the present church site (and is still in use for the school). The mission is considered to have been founded in 1877, when the first resident priest came to Willington; he was a Belgian, Aloysius Hosten, trained at the English College in Bruges and ordained at Ushaw in 1869. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 24 June 1903 and the building was opened on 5 July 1905. A proposed small baptistery on the north side was not built, although a blind arch visible inside shows where it would have been. The cost of the building was variously reported as £4,500 or £5,000. Fr Hosten’s origins no doubt explain the fact that the benches were imported from Belgium and that the chancel murals are by a Belgian artist. Furthermore it is possible to imagine that he may have been an influence in the planning of the church, which with its wide nave and double transepts might be seen as having a hint of the Low Countries’ work. 

The church was reordered in 1987 by Richard Lyons of Dietz-Lyons Associates. The old wooden high altar was replaced by a tabernacle plinth, with a new forward altar in front, both of stone. The oak altar rails, given by the parish in 1924 in memory of Fr Hosten, were cut back, with just a short section left on either side of the sanctuary. The pulpit was reduced in size to serve as an ambo and a confessional provided the materials for a presidential chair. The wall paintings in the apse were gently cleaned. At the west end, the entrance area was enlarged by being extended into the church in the form of a narthex. The altar and church were consecrated by Bishop Swindlehurst on 16 July 1987.

A large church built of rock-faced local stone (from Dunhouse, Barnard Castle). It has a nave and double transepts and a sanctuary terminating in a three-sided apse. At the southwest corner of the south transept is a slender turret containing a single bell. The style of the church is Gothic, derived from c.1300, but the tracery is unusually thick and heavy: the heads of the windows in the nave and transepts are rounded, those in the west front pointed. The sanctuary has a three-sided apse (another slight hint of continental influence at a date when such a feature would not normally be expected in an English church).

The interior is an impressive, large space covered by a high, keeled roof over the nave and with double transepts, the open nature of which is emphasised by the use of slender, quatrefoil piers at the entrance on each side. The walls are plastered and whitened.

Fixtures and fittings: the chief item of interest is the treatment of the sanctuary. This has a series of six paintings on canvas round the apse showing Types and Ante-types: Feeding of the Five Thousand/Moses in the Desert and Israelites collecting manna: Crucifixion/Sacrifice of Isaac: Wedding at Cana/Abraham meets Melchidizek. They are the work of the Belgian artist Louis Beyaert who has signed the central lower scene and given the date 1912. They are accomplished work, traditional in spirit and perhaps reflecting conservative continental Catholic taste.

Heritage Details


Original Date: 1905

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed