Monday, September 7, 2015

European Heritage Open Days 2014 | Belfast | Part V: May Street Presbyterian Church

On the Sunday morning, perusing the EHOD brochure, I realised that there was little on offer in east Belfast that I’ve not already seen, so it was time to cast the net somewhat wider. One of the first that caught my eye was May Street Presbyterian Church in central Belfast. Like many of the other EHOD properties I’ve reported on for this blog, I’ve passed by on a regular basis, but never ventured in … it was time to change that! From the outside, it is a rather severe, Neoclassical building that, to my eyes at least, has always appeared somewhat stern and uninviting. Well, the building may have looked that way, but the people inside couldn’t be further from it. I received a warm welcome and an excellent guided tour about the building, all the time being serenaded by some extremely fine organ music … what’s not to like?

The building opened in 1829, essentially as a platform for the near-legendary Presbyterian preacher Rev Henry Cooke. Cooke is memorialised in the iconic Belfast statue colloquially known as ‘The Black Man’ … which actually refers to the bronze statue of the Marquis of Belfast that had stood on this site previously, and has no racist connotations at all! Cook, like many churchmen of his time, was heavily involved in politics and the Dictionary of National Biography notes that ‘Till the election of 1832 Belfast had been a stronghold of liberalism. Cooke turned the tide.’ I think it’s fair to say that we would not have gotten on. Whatever my feelings about the man, I do like his church. The cold, hard neo-classicism on the outside gives way to a softer, warmer version of the same on the interior. The straight lines and stone of the exterior are transformed to gently curving and wooden forms that give a much friendlier and more welcoming feel that I would have initially suspected. The whole feeling is one of warmth and light, the acoustics are excellent and the view from the balcony is superb.

I always end these posts with the hope that readers will enjoy my words and photographs, but will be sufficiently inspired to go seek out these places themselves and this is no different – get out and see this place, it is worth the effort!

Panoramic overview of the interior
Main entrance with decorative entablature
Memorial to those from the church who served and fell in WWI
Interior with organ
Detail of wooden capital supporting the balcony
Underneath the balcony, looking towards the organ
Wooden baptismal font
Stained glass window commemorating John Calvin 
Matching stained glass window commemorating Rev Henry Cooke 
Panoramic overview of the balcony area
Another panoramic overview of the balcony area
Yet another panoramic overview of the balcony area - you might guess that I quite liked this place!

View from near the Cooke stained glass
The organist entertains ...
A lovely detail: an extra seat can be made in the stall with a hinged plank.
View of exterior
< 3D Images

For anyone interested in the other EHOD properties I’ve seen and written about my find the following of interest:

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