When I was small, we used to go to Mass only when my grandparents were staying with us. If I was very lucky we would go to St Mary's: The Hidden Gem, in Manchester. To a small child this was a magical building, tucked away, squeezed between tall anonymous buildings, this place was about secrets and inner longings. I believed it had only recently been discovered amid the forest of office blocks. That strange, ancient people had kept alive something special within its walls for years, avoiding persecution by keeping very quiet. This is not quite the real story. The church has its own website and you can read all about it and see some beautiful pictures here.
I had something of a religious calling there aged about six, sat next to my granddad, a shaft of warm, spring sunlight enveloping me like a shawl. I had never felt happier or more peaceful in my life...this church is the one place I feel I can call home. I don't like dwelling on how I felt that day, on the further callings I squandered and ignored, on the mess I subsequently made of much of my teens and early twenties.
After my student days I returned to Manchester and living within what I considered to be walking distance of the church, I'd visit quite a lot. I was not happy that the wall behind the rederos was now white and had lost its blue and its golden stars. To a small child that rederos really did point to heaven. I was not best pleased that the beautiful tiled floor was now covered with utilitarian carpet. However I could live with its controversial Stations of the Cross, they lack sentimentality and whilst I personally don't find them particularly prayerful, they haven't lessened the beauty of the church.
If you visit Manchester, pop into this church. The Blessed Sacrament will probably be exposed and you will see a diverse section of the population of Manchester and Salford before the altar, join them in prayer. The Pieta Chapel is beautiful. The statue of Our Lady of Manchester is beautiful. Sitting here at my computer screen, I can feel I am there, just thinking about it. Very few churches, even those I am most familiar with, can come close to that. One is always before the Lord at church, but this church has seen me grow up and been instrumental in that process, that is why it is for me, home.