The history of the church of St. Mary and St. Finnan – Scotland

Church of St. Mary and St. Finnan was formally dedicated by Archbishop Eyre, stands immediately to the south-west of A830 “Road to the Isles” as it climbs from the Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Shiel towards Glenfinnan Station.

The church stands in a magnificent raised location in Glenfinnan  which offers stupendous views down Loch Shiel and across to the mountains which line the loch’s south-eastern shore, Scotland. Administrator of Church’s Western District, assisted by two English bishops, on 19 August 1873 AD, in presence of a gathering that included MacDonald of Glenaladale, whose seat was at Glenfinnan House.

En route you pass the church bell, located in a roofed housing in front of the church. Accounts differ about whether it was placed here because the money for building the church ran out before the belfry was added or, as seems more likely, the raised location of the site meant that it was deemed unnecessary to place the bell on top of the church. Whatever the reason, location means it is possible to see that the bell was produced in Eagle Foundry in Dublin.

After Reformation of 1560 AD, Catholicism retained its strongest foothold in the more remote areas of Scotland, and in particular in the Western Highlands. This was one of the reasons why it was at the head of Loch Shiel that Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Price Charlie”, chose to raise his standard on Monday 19 August 1745 AD. The story of the 1745 AD, Jacobite uprising, which came so very close to placing the Stuarts back on the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland is told on our Glenfinnan Monument page: suffice it to say that the strength of Catholicism in the area was partly why uprising began in Glenfinnan.

Origins of the Church of Our Lady and St Finnan, as it is also called, dates back to late 1860s, when the Parish Priest, Father Donald MacDonald, decided that his parish needed a place of worship whose grandeur could match that of its surroundings. Father MacDonald was the uncle of the last Laird of Glenfinnan, Colonel John A. MacDonald of Glenaladale, who financed the project and made the site available. This may be why Father MacDonald chose as his architect Edward Welby Pugin. Son of Augustus Welby Pugin, widely regarded as the founder of the Gothic Revival style in British architecture, Edward Welby Pugin was responsible for designing over 100 Catholic churches and cathedrals, mainly in England and Ireland, but also in Western Europe and beyond. The Church of Our Lady and St Finnan is one of four churches designed by Pugin in Scotland.

Church built in Glenfinnan  between 1870-1872 AD, is an ambitious in scale and Gothic in style. Surrounding vegetation and the slope dropping steeply to the loch mean your only clear external views of it are from north and north-east, but these are sufficient to appreciate the way the church seems to fit perfectly into its surroundings.

Internally you find a light and airy space of considerable grandeur. The nave is fully aisled and rises to a clearstory. A chancel arch leads to the chancel at the north-east end of the church, where the alter is surmounted by a large rose window placed high in the gable. This is a relatively recent addition to the church, being dedicated in June 1995. It was designed and installed by Ormsby of Scarisbrick.

Church of Our Lady and St Finnan underwent restoration in 1985, and in recent years considerable effort has gone into restoring and drying out the fabric of the Grade B listed church. Despite this, it is clear to anyone who visits that a great deal more remains to be done, with signs of damp and peeling paint visible on many of the interior walls.

Src: archeohistories

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