Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Bowes Memorial Church Trust (posted 15/03/2010)

As I think I said in a previous post, St Mary's Church here in Barnard Castle stands facing the junction of two roads, Newgate and Birch Road, and it is aligned with the Bowes Museum directly behind the church.  John  Bowes himself laid the foundation stone of the original church, which was to be built near the east side of the Museum, and in fact reached roof level before building was stopped.  The church stood as a folly from 1885 until 1926, when the walls were taken down and the stone moved to the corner of the Park and used in the construction of the present St Mary's.
But what makes this Church unique in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle is that it is not owned by the Diocese but by Trustees appointed by John and Josephine Bowes. The Trustees bear the responsibility for the upkeep of the Church, the Presbytery and the grounds surrounding the Church.  John Bowes drew up regulations for the management of the Church Trust.  He was helped in this by his friend, Monsignor Thomas Witham - Mgr Witham had been a parish priest in several places in the Diocese, but when his older brother died suddenly at Lartington Hall, a few miles up the Dale, he left his parish work to take over the estate in his brother's stead and he became Squire Witham. (Monsignor Witham deserves a post all on his own).
John Bowes specified that there should be no more than 12 trustees and no fewer than five.  Half were to be parishioners and the other half from anywhere in the north-east; they all had to be practising Catholics.  This was very generous of John - he had had a run-in with the Bishop of the Diocese about who should appoint the priest to his church and about access to it.  At least one of the present trustees is a direct descendant of one of the trustees appointed by John and Josephine.  The church was always intended to be a parish church for the Catholics of Barnard Castle and the surrounding district.
In practice, the legacy which came to the Trustees in 1905, when John's will was probated, was insufficient to complete the church, and the Trustees were forced to invest the money until the sum was large enough in the early 1920's to think about finishing the church on its new site.  In the last twenty years or so, a number of repairs have had to be made to church and house (roof, sanctuary, organ), and funds are again depleted.  Parish income is used for all of the day-to-day running of the place, as is only right, and we help with the insurance by paying half with the Trustees.  Now the organ, which is a delightful instrument, needs a big overhaul, and we are agonising about the cost.  I do not think the Trustees would mind if I mentioned that donations to the Organ Fund would be very welcome and much appreciated.
Since I came to St Mary's, I have installed various statues: of Our Lady, of the Sacred Heart, of St Joseph with the Child and of St Anthony.  The Church is a very lovely church in a delightful setting, and if any of you are in the neighbourhood it is well worth a visit.

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