The wonder of Broadfield Drive
September 15th 2012 marked the Golden Jubilee of the laying of the foundation stone of St.Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Broadfield Drive, Leyland, by Archbishop (later Cardinal) John Heenan.
Both the circular plan and the very modern fittings of the church were revolutionary - strongly at odds with prevailing ideas of what a church should look like.
Half a century on, it is widely seen as one of Lancashire's finest public buildings of the 20th Century. But how was a small town's parish priest able to create such a wonder for the present and the future? The answer is that neither were quite what they seemed.
Following wartime expansion, the town was growing rapidly during the 1950s, with the construction of the Wade Hall and Broadfield estates. Leyland, a name which had become synonymous with the British motor industry, was a modern boom town.
The highly gifted Fr Edmund Fitzsimons (parish priest 1952-78) found his small church on Worden Lane could no longer cope and decided to do something about it.
He began to study the latest European concepts of church design, producing an early balsa wood model of an octagonal church. The parish football pool helped raise the funds. Today the result of their efforts is clear for all to see.
Set within a ring of 14 V-shaped pillars, the altar is central to concentric rings of banked seating, under a spectacular radial-folded slab roof weighing 400 tons - itself an engineering wonder. A broad walkway runs around the perimeter of the seating, and the tower - with its one-tonne bell - stands away from the building.
What is less immediately obvious is the treasure trove of contemporary art works it contains. There's woodwork by the firm of Robert "Mouseman" Thompson of Kilburn; "chunky glass" dalle-de-verre windows by Patrick Reyntiens; a central crucifix and other works by Adam Kossowski, and an enormous tapestry by the church's architect, Jerzy Faczynski.
Visitors are greeted by Kossowski's enormous ceramic frieze of the Day of Judgement, then the largest of its type in the world.
Perhaps most striking today is the ring of the Stations of the Cross, by Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley. Sir Henry Moore was too busy, leaving the way for the controversial Dooley to win the commission after a conversation in a Liverpool pub!
Formed within the great circle of pillars, they dominate the church and made the colourful Dooley internationally famous. They have been described as the most remarkable works of religious art in Britain. The superlatives go on: drop any of these artists' names into a search engine, and you find the familiar "St.Marys Church, Broadfield Drive, Leyland".
One of the country's few post-war buildings to be granted listed status by English Heritage, this modern-day wonder is a great lasting tribute to the visionaries of the 1950s.
Pictured is Fr Jonathan Cotton with Kossowski's frieze of The Day of Judgement.
Last updated: 19 November 2012