Falkirk’s ultra modern masterpiece is one of the best in Britain

In last week’s article about the Oddfellows Hall I mentioned that the building had been used by the congregation of St Francis Xaviers church from 1955 when the old church in Hope Street was damaged by fire.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:30 pm
The original St Francis Xaviers church in Hope Street.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the modern church which replaced it but many readers will still remember the original building on the same site.

It had served the Catholic community in Falkirk for over a century from the time in 1843 when a number of families from the Highlands and from Ireland had settled in the area as a result of the construction of the canals and railways.

For a few years before this visiting priests used hired rooms for services until the congregation was large enough to finance a church of their own.

St Francis Xaviers Church.

Father Paul Maclachlan from Glenlivet was appointed as Parish Priest and under his leadership the site on Hope Street was purchased and the church erected.

It was described at the time as an “elegant structure” which formed a “conspicuous object in the thriving town of Falkirk”.

For the next 112 years the church served a growing Catholic community until the tragic events of 21st October 1955 when a fire broke out during the night in the sacristy which joined the church to the priests’ house.

It spread within the roof of the church itself and there was also a great deal of water damage.

The congregation decided that it was better to replace than repair and the bold decision was taken to go for what was then an ultra modern design by the architect Alexander Conlin.

While the work progressed services were held in the little ‘Catholic hall’ in Manor Street which had once been St Francis School and in the Oddfellows Hall already mentioned.

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The foundation stone of the new church was laid in April 1960 by the then Archbishop Gordon Gray and he was on hand again on 29th October the following year to conduct the opening service.

The building is very striking both inside and out.

The huge ‘brick wall’ behind the altar with its 35 gold crosses attracted a few comments at the time but generally the light and airy openness of the sanctuary was a welcome contrast to the old cramped Gothic of the earlier building.

The stained glass is particularly attractive especially the innovative work of Felix McCulloch which is an example of the ‘decorative application of automotive safety glass’!

The great window at the east end with its five triangular sections has scenes from the life of St Francis.

It was designed by the French artist Edgar Blanchard from Lourdes.

Of course it is the outside that most people see.

Dominated by the huge statue of St Francis by Maxwell Allan, there are also the four evangelists carved from concrete by Elizabeth Dempster and a fine wall plaque of the coat-of-arms of the Archbishop by the sculptor Hew Lorimer, the son of Sir Robert.

A few years ago a national organisation described the building as one of the top ten modern church buildings in Britain.

After 60 years it still has a very modern look and, though it has quite a lot of the 1960s about its square lines, it seems to have avoided much of the criticism aimed at buildings from that era.

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