By Sean Ryan - 01 May, 2017
Belfast’s oldest and most historical Catholic church is to close for a number of weeks this summer for essential renovations.
St Mary’s, in Chapel Lane, close to the city centre, will undergo both external and internal restoration between May and August, but will be open as normal for most of that time.
It follows on from the first phase of development work on the church, which was completed in 2014.
St Mary’s Church in Belfast is one of huge historical significance. The Census in 1782 showed that there were 365 Catholics living in Belfast. At that time, there was no Catholic church in the city.
The Presbyterian and Church of Ireland communities took up a special collection known as the Handsome Collection at their services and made a gift of the monies donated to build the first Catholic church in Belfast – St Mary’s, Chapel Lane. The generosity of the Presbyterian and Church of Ireland people of Belfast demonstrates the unprecedented religious tolerance of that time.
It was on Sunday, 30 May 1784 that Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new Church of St Mary by Fr Hugh O’Donnell, first parish priest of Belfast.
A sister church was built – St Mary’s on the Hill in Whiteabbey – and Fr O’Donnell would mount his horse after saying Mass in Belfast to say Mass there.
Last weekend, in a message to parishioners in the weekly bulletin, the parish administrator Fr James Boyle wrote: “I wish to confirm … that the proposed external refurbishment and internal redecoration of the church will commence on Monday 8 May and is due to be completed by Friday 18 August.”
Work to be done on the outside of the building includes the complete replacement of the main roof coverings and the repairing and re-pointing of walls and stonework, while new paving is to be installed in the grotto area, which is dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.
Fr Boyle said “The external work will not cause any disruption to the daily operation of the church. However, the internal redecoration will result in the main church being closed for a period which will not exceed three weeks. The relevant dates will be confirmed ASAP at which time we will clarify the alternative arrangements for daily celebration of Masses.”