WORSHIPPERS at a Wearside church which survived wartime Luftwaffe attacks are appealing for help - after wind and rain accomplished what Hitler couldn’t.
Decades of brutal North-East weather have led to leaks in the roof at St Ignatius in Hendon, causing rotting of the underlying woodwork and loosening of roof slates.
The church recently received a £10,800 grant from the Listed Places of Worship Repair Fund to help towards restoration, but more cash is still needed to make the roof watertight.
“Holes in the roof from missing slates will exacerbate the weather damage deeper within the timbers unless the problem is addressed fairly soon,” said Reverend Andrew Collins-Jones.
“This work is urgent, and vital. If we don’t act now, the roof could rot still further - and there are also serious concerns that passers-by may get hurt if slates start falling from the church.
“To that end, St Ignatius will be hosting a lunch and musical concert this Saturday - to help raise funds for urgent repairs to the roof above the Lightfoot Room within the church.”
Sunderland was a Victorian boom town when Joseph Barber Lightfoot, then Bishop of Durham, dipped into his own pocket to help fund a new church at Hendon in the 1880s.
Hundreds of Wearsiders were spurred into making donations to buy land at Bramwell Road for the project as well, with architect Charles Hodgson Fowler engaged as the chief designer.
“The Church was just beginning to recognise the problems associated with Victorian society, such as lack of education and the need for temperance,” said local historian Sharon Vincent.
“A growing population meant many parish churches were overcrowded so, to address these issues, it was decided to build more churches to encourage people to adhere to their faith.
“After all, if the established Church did not cater to their spiritual needs, a disillusioned congregation could turn to other faiths for religious support or cease to go to church at all.”
A flurry of church building took place across the North East over a five-year period and, in 1887, construction on Lightfoot’s personal gift to Sunderland began - at a cost of £8,000.
Crowds gathered to watch two years later, as St Ignatius was consecrated on July 2, 1889. The bishop, though poorly, made it to the service - but sadly died just five months later.
“To commemorate his decade spent in Durham, Lightfoot requested that the new church at Bramwell Street be named after St Ignatius, after his own personal study into the saint’s life,” said Sharon.
“The organ for the consecration service was hired from CJ Vincent, of Bridge Street. The processional party and dignitaries lunched at the Queen’s Hotel in Fawcett Street afterwards.
“Consecration services then took place every day until July 9 - when several of the workmen who built the church attended a final service in the church spire. A prayer of thanks was given for their work.
“Finally, a celebratory festival was held at the Assembly Hall in Fawcett Street later that day, with tea served to 700 guests. It was a fitting end to the consecration of St Ignatius.”
Such was the gratitude of Wearsiders that, in October, a church deputation - including clergy and choir members - presented Lightfoot with framed photos of St Ignatius as a thank you.
Two months later, however, he died. Dozens travelled from Sunderland for his funeral and he was later commemorated in six scenes set within a stained glass window at the church.
“Before he died, Bishop Lightfoot was responsible for building 45 churches and mission rooms across the region - quite a few more than his original intention of 25,” said Sharon.
“And in 1891, his legacy continued with the construction of St Polycarp’s - a daughter church of St Ignatius - which stood on the corner of Addison Street and Hendon Road.
“It is important, therefore, that Lightfoot’s gift to Sunderland should be preserved. Repairing and maintaining the roof of St Ignatius is an on-going project - and vital for the future.”
l A Solemn May Devotion Mass will be held at 12noon this Saturday by Father Collins-Jones, followed by lunch at 1pm. Admission £7, including a glass of wine.
A musical concert by singers Maureen and Victoria Clarke, Ken Anderson and Alex Slaughter, accompanied by St Ignatius organist Derek Shute, will be held following the meal. For more information, or to book tickets, telephone Vera on 565 6032 or Maureen on 534 4948.