Many of those who currently live or once lived in close vicinity to Gorton Monastery know that is is no ordinary building. The site holds great significance to many who have fond memories of the church and friary – whether it was going to one of the schools on site, celebrating their wedding in the church or attending mass alongside the Franciscan Friars. The building itself, and the historic objects within, can serve as a reminder to those with fond memories of the site of how it used to be when it functioned as a church and friary.
Some of the most iconic items within the Monastery are the twelve statues of the saints, and just as they help to inspire past stories and memories of the site, they also have their own unique story to tell. The saints themselves were part of E.W.Pugin’s original architectural design and were installed when the Monastery was first built. For about 133-years, they spent their time gazing down from their beautifully carved plinths at the friars and parishioners below. Sadly, when the site was bought by a property developer in the early 1990s the saints were removed and their plinths were left vacant, with only the angels underneath left behind.
After having been removed from the site, these 6ft-high sandstone statues of the saints resurfaced in a Sotheby’s catalogue in 1994, where they were priced with a reserve of £2,000 each and listed as ‘garden ornaments’. Fortunately, they were spotted in the catalogue by a local historian, Janet Wallwork, who immediately recognised them on the auction list. Knowing that the statues had originally belonged to the Monastery, Janet Wallwork enlisted the help of Gerald Kauffman, the local MP for Gorton at the time. They were then able to negotiate with Manchester Council to save the historic figures from auction by paying £25,000 for their return to Manchester.
After a short period on display at Manchester Town Hall, the statues were then placed in a secure container and waited for the restoration of the building to be completed. During this time, local artists Shawn Williamson and Andrew Scantlebury – specialists in sculpture and stone masonry – worked alongside a group of volunteers to painstakingly restore the statues on-site in two container workshops. In 2012, the saints statues were finally hoisted 40ft up and placed back on their plinths – ready, once again, to look down at the public below. As the Monastery’s Chief Executive Elaine Griffiths said at the time, ‘They’re part of the fabric not only of the Monastery but of the community as well and this truly is a historic day’.
Blog written by Mariam Moon-Begum (Heritage Intern, summer 2019) and Emma Bryning (Heritage and Community Impact Manager)
References from ‘Images of England: Gorton Monastery’, Jill Cronin and Frank Rhodes