An irate pensioner is threatening to chain herself to railings in protest at the shock closure of an historic city centre church.
Moira Cardwell will join other angry parishioners demonstrating outside the doomed St Ignatius RC in Preston tomorrow to condemn the “disgraceful” decision to shut it down after 178 years of worship.
The rare, pre-Victorian church, with a spectacular interior reputedly designed by world-renowned architect Augustus Pugin, has been earmarked for closure at the end of the month because of a shortage of priests.
The 140-strong congregation has been asked to relocate to sister church English Martyrs, almost a mile away.
But Moira has vowed to “do an Emmiline Pankhurst” and shackle herself to the church gates, claiming many of the regulars are too old to make the Sunday morning journey for Mass.
“We are all stunned by the news,” she said. “Many of us won’t be going to English Martyrs. If this church has to close then that will be it.
“Some of the congregation are in their nineties and were baptized here, went to school next door and have worshipped here all their lives. They have been in tears.”
Moira has written to the Pope to protest at the closure. She has also asked Preston Council to intervene in case the Grade II* Listed building is allowed to fall into disrepair and ultimately has to be demolished.
The council’s conservation officer, Diane Vaughton, said: “It is a rare building and has historial associations, architectural quality and is an absolutely beautiful church.
“As a council we can’t object to its closure. That is a matter for the Catholic Church. But what we can do is monitor the condition of the building and make sure it isn’t allowed to deteriorate.
“We want to safeguard it for the future and, obviously, we would like it to be in use. I have contacted the diocese and asked them what their plans are. We will try and work with them.
“But there are features in that church which will have to stay there, whatever they decide to do with it.”
St Ignatius was opened in 1836 and, in addition to Pugin who designed the interior of the Houses of Parliament, it has close ties to two of the nation’s finest poets.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a curate at the church in the 1880s and Francis Thompson, who was born in Preston, was baptized there in 1859.
Moira said: “I started coming here in 1966, but others have been regulars for much longer than that.
“The diocese has allowed things to run down here for several years - we only have the one Mass now on a Sunday morning and we have no resident priest.
“But the church is self-sufficient, we have money in the bank and the building is in first class condition. Why it has to close down is beyond me. It is disgraceful.”
In a statement Bishop Michael Campbell said of the decision to close St Ignatius and merge with English Martyrs: “I know it will not be easy at first and there will be some sorrow in this decision, but I’m relying on the goodwill, sacrifice and co-operation of everyone in the parish to make the new arrangement work.”