This article by Right Rev. Mgr. John McIntyre was printed in the August 2004 edition of our magazine Whitemoss Chronicles, which was published in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the opening of our church.

"Here, this is something special, isn't it?" The exclamation of a priest-friend I brought into St Bride's church some years ago sums up what many have felt when for the first time they stepped down into the nave of this church and sensed the effect that enormous unbroken space with its soaring brick walls and subdued all-pervading light. It is indeed a very special church, and recognised as such right from the start by the award in the sixties of the Bronze Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects for "an outstanding example of modern architecture" and a Class 1 Civic Trust award for a distinguished building "which enriches by its power and strength of character the whole town centre...". It has continued to be the subject of comment and study in architectural texts and journals, being seen as one of the outstanding post-war churches in Britain and possibly the finest of the group of important innovative church buildings produced in the 50s and 60s by the firm of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia.

Jack Coia had begun to design Glasgow churches as early as 1927. From the start, in buildings like St Anne's in Dennistoun and St Columkille's in Rutherglen there was a decisive departure from the neo-gothic conventions embodied in the many fine Pugin churches of central Scotland, which formed people's ideas of "what a church should look like". But the early Coia churches were still derivative, drawing on other traditions like the Romanesque. It was in the final phase of his career, and in cooperation with two very able assistants, lsi Metzstein and Andrew MacMillan, that Coia produced designs which could compare with contemporary efforts in Europe and America to provide truly original, simplified forms of organised space for the worshipping community and its sacramental action. In the case of St Bride's an early sketch shows that in all essentials this massive and startling design was Coia's own: in old age he would speak to Bishop Devine of his intention of using "the finest site he had ever been given" to express a concept of the Mass as a fortress standing out against the secular world.

Apart from giving us a new perspective on the tired old "Fort Apache" joke, that remark of Coia's can help to explain more than one feature of St Bride's. The great brick block completely dominates the low, straggling, many-windowed line of ancillary buildings; there is a demand of time and effort in climbing the main approaches from Whitemoss Avenue; the entrance, guarded by the immense high fold in the brickwork, accepts and surrounds those coming in rather than welcoming them. But on a more negative note, his words also raise the question of the liturgical vision Coia brought to his design. It is almost a commonplace to say that the later Coia churches, with nave and sanctuary forming a unified space, reflected the new liturgical vision in the church. But St Bride's, though built in the years of the Second Vatican Council, remains internally a rigid hall-church in a tradition which was already passing away.

The congregation's area is strongly defined, and the original (and beautiful) wooden communion-rail presented a strong visual barrier to the sanctuary for those sitting or kneeling in the body of the church. In particular the lofty pulpit within the congregational area represents a tradition soon to be swept away by the insistence on preaching as integral to the liturgy and on a Place of the Word linked to Altar and Chair. Part of St Bride's historical significance is precisely that it was made fortress-like at the very moment when the concept of the church as a fortress was being rejected, and that it shed a dim religious light from directly above the assembly when the Pope of the time was talking of opening windows to let in air and light. It is magnificent, but it is magnificently reactionary.

Coia's "fortress" concept did not include the 90-foot bell-tower which for the first twenty years of its life complemented the church block. This was requested by Bishop Scanlan, presumably to help give an ecclesiastical character to the whole complex. It was demolished by the decision of his successor Bishop Thompson, when the spalling of the defective bricks used in its construction was endangering passers-by and no expert could be found to suggest a repair process carrying a lifetime guarantee. Whether the loss of an element which in fact rather modified Coia's original concept should have brought so much criticism from the same experts is open to question. But it raises two further important matters - the extent to which major technical defects should qualify our judgment of this great piece of architecture, and the need often expressed to have St Bride's distinguished by some form of Christian symbol.

"Due to the innovative and experimental nature of these structures, a few technical problems have been experienced by some, which has basically been caused by the problems of using untried materials..." David Walker's comment on the late Coia's churches (quoted in The Herald 12/01/2002) represents the received wisdom of the architectural lobby. Members of St Bride's parish, who over the years have had to find many hundreds of thousands of pounds to put right "technical problems", may ask whether it says enough. Brick is hardly an "untried material", but the primary principles of its use - that it should be of a quality to withstand local weather conditions and that direct water-flow down the brick face should be minimised by some form of eaves - seem to have been ignored in the building of St Bride's. Again, the provision of diffused top-lighting by enclosing a standard factory-type roof within the upper walls was a brilliant expedient, but the deep guttering such roofs require was not allowed for, and for a quarter of a century water ponded in heavy rain, seeped up under the roof elements, and poured down directly over the assembly.

There are other examples of failure to foresee technical difficulties, but one is particularly telling. Heat is as important as light in a church built on a Scottish hillside, yet no adequate answer to the problem of keeping worshippers warm was worked out. The attempts to fight the chill currents of air by ceiling-level heating and later by giant warm-air blowers were expensive failures, underfloor heating proved quite ineffective, and only the present wall-mounted industrial radiant heaters have provided adequate comfort. It may be remarked that aesthetic objections to these heaters is misplaced; the habit of hiding heating elements is a mere modern convention, and a church which stands in the "brutalist" tradition of stark honesty of materials and design can surely bear the presence of these plain, strongly functional units.

The church is not altogether without elements of adornment - the lively internal patterning of the great east wall is a case in point - and the lack of any significant external Christian symbol, now that the bell-tower is no more, must surely be seen as a defect. It can hardly be a fortress of the faith standing out before the secular world if that world is not in some way told what it is. But it is undeniably difficult to envisage a symbol truly sympathetic to the building's character. A recent suggestion of Professor Andrew MacMillan's, proposing three distinctive crosses jutting above roof level, is apparently unworkable from an engineering point of view. But the desire for such symbolism is legitimate and the search for a solution ought to continue.

Many other aspects of this powerful building - the abandonment of the planned vehicular entry to the piazza, for instance, and the functions of the two gallery areas - invite discussion and have received it in professional studies. To one of these, Suzanne Ruddy's Dissertation for the Mackintosh School of Architecture, I am much indebted for information used here, though my judgements are not always the same as hers, I realise my account of St Bride's is a very personal one, but I offer it as an anniversary tribute to a church which, when all the negative things have been said, is one in which the Catholics of the parish and indeed of Scotland have a right to be proud.

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