Saint Aloysius Church: Glasgow Beyond Guidebooks

Saint Aloysius Church is not a place you will find often in guidebooks about Glasgow. It is worth a stop on your travels, though, if your interests include social history, architecture, Glasgow history, or the history of religion in Scotland.

It also makes a fine place for quiet contemplation, a good place attend a service, and an interesting place to take in several sorts of art.

saint aloysius glasgow exterior glasgow by kerry dexter

Speaking of art, Saint Aloysius, which is at the intersection of Hill and Rose Streets in the Garnethill area near the city center of Glasgow, is an architectural landmark whose distinctive tower you will likely have noticed as you’ve been traveling about central Glasgow. Saint Aloysius is an A listed building, which means it is a building of historical significance. The current building is a bit more than one hundred years old.

Its architect Charles Ménart was born in Belgium. He had come to Glasgow to study at the Glasgow School of Art. Staying in Scotland to begin his practice, he designed a number of churches in the Catholic dioceses of Aberdeen and Glasgow. For Saint Aloysius, he took a bit of inspiration from a church in his country of birth, Saint Aubin’s Cathedral in Namur.

saint aloysius glasgow nave by kerry dexter

Many architects of the time when Saint Aloysius was built favored Gothic Revival styles — the then new chapel at the University of Glasgow, for instance, was designed that way. Ménart chose Baroque Revival style, which gave his buildings a different look, often including references to building styles from Tuscany as well. One of those Tuscan ideas was to have a bell tower beside the church. When Saint Aloysius was completed in 1910, is was the only church in Glasgow to have such a tower.

The interior of Saint Aloysius will stay in your memory, and of that interior, the dome.

The dome is ringed with paintings of the four evangelists and, most strikingly, a series of stained glass windows.

Saint Aloysius parish was founded ,some forty years before the current building was constructed, by members of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits are a missionary order, begun by Saint Ignatius Loyola in the sixteenth century. Priests at Saint Aloysius are still Jesuits to this day.

So are the subjects of the windows which ring the dome, Saint Ignatius, Saint Peter Claver, and others look down on the main altar and the nave.

saint aloysius st pater claver window by k dexter

You will find four chapels around the nave, the Lady Chapel, the Holy Souls Chapel, the Sacred Heart Chapel, and the Saint Ignatius Chapel. In contrast to the historic architectural decorations and statues in these chapels, you’ll often find posters and other displays about parish outreach projects and partnerships with other parishes, including those in developing nations. This is still very much an active parish.

You will also find an area honoring Saint John Ogilvie. A Jesuit himself, he was born near the town of Keith in Scotland’s northeast, to a prominent Calvinist Protestant family. Sent to the continent to further his education, he first studied with Benedictines and later, Jesuits, and decided to join the order. This was the height of reformation times, the early 1600s, when both Catholics and Protestants disagreed so strongly that they often chose violence to address their differences. Now an ordained priest, Ogilvie traveled back to Scotland in disguise to serve the needs of hidden Catholics in Glasgow and to try to bring others to the faith. Though he had some success, eventually his identity was betrayed, and he was arrested. He is reported to have said that he would willingly obey King James in all things, except those which required him to accept the king’s authority in spiritual matters. Beaten and deprived of food and sleep, he still refused to do that, and so was executed at Glasgow Cross in 1615. He was recognized as a saint in 1976.

saint aloysius st joh ogilvoe statue scorland

The statue of John Ogilvie is rather quiet looking, compared to all that. He is still remembered and honored here, though.

You will find other statues and art work about the church. Though it rarely appears in guidebooks, those who have worked in the church or happened to find it have called Saint Aloysius one of the most beautiful churches in the world, on par with many better known places including Saint Paul’s in London and Saint Mark’s in Venice.

Whether you agree with those assessments or not, Saint Aloysius Church makes a good place for quiet reflection in the midst Glasgow’s city center. If spending time in churches is not your thing, however, there’s a small pocket park serving the residents of the Garnethill neighborhood just across Hill Street beside the church. It has no connection with the church at all, just a bit of greenery where children can play and adults take a break.

Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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