St. Charles’ is a Roman Catholic Church building within the Archdiocese of Glasgow.

The St Charles’ Oratory covers areas in the North and West of the City of Glasgow and also serves the nearby St Charles’ Primary School.

The First Church

First Church of St Charles' exterior

First Church of St Charles’ exterior

The Parish was founded in 1899 and dedicated to St Charles Borromeo. It was, by then, one of three churches dedicated to St Charles in the Archdiocese; the other two in Paisley and Newton. It was part of an extensive programme of school and church building which Archbishop Charles Eyre embarked on during his appointment as Administrator-Apostolic of the Western District of Scotland in 1869 and his later appointment as Archbishop of the restored Archdiocese of Glasgow in 1878. The temporary church of St Charles’ Kelvinside Gdns was built by the Very Rev James Canon Cameron to serve the increasing population who were being housed in the new tenements which were being built between the established parishes of  The Immaculate Conception, Maryhill and St. Joseph’s, Cowcaddens. The “Glasgow Observer” described the creation of this new Mission at East-Park in an article on 11 February 1899.

First Church of St Charles' interior

First Church of St Charles’ interior

On 25 March 1899 the newly appointed Parish Priest Rev Daniel Stewart and his first curate, Rev Alexander McCormick, took up residence at the temporary presbytery in a ground floor flat at 10 Jedburgh Gdns.

On 28th May 1899 the church was solemnly opened in the presence of His Grace Archbishop Charles Eyre; the celebrant of the High Mass was the Very Rev Canon Mackintosh. The temporary/first  church was on the site of the present church building but sited at right angles to it, towards the school.

The present presbytery was built in 1900 by Fr Stewart. The school, built to accommodate 650 children, was completed the following year;  it was opened on 12 Aug 1901 with a school roll of 477.  The school has a history of its own, but has always been an integral part of the parish.

From 1913-1926 Fr Fitzgerald and later Fr Cush had charge of both St Charles’ and St Columba’s. Not long after the arrival of Fr Cush it was discovered that the foundations of the presbytery at St Charles’ were sinking. The foundations were made safe and the building was extended to accommodate 5 priests, due to the amalgamation of the parishes. The silver jubilee of the parish was celebrated on Sun 24 April 1924 with solemn High Mass at 12 noon; Fr Cush was the celebrant. By 1926 St Columba’s had cleared a considerable amount of its debt and again became a separate parish.

First Church of St Charles'  with extension

First Church of St Charles’ with extension

Both the church and school were congested and in 1930 a new wing for the church was added. The extended church was opened on Sunday 9th November 1930;  His Grace Archbishop Mackintosh presided and preached and Canon Fitzgerald, a former  priest of  St Charles’, was the celebrant of  the High Mass . In 1938 a Church Building Fund for a new church was established by Fr (later Canon) Lyons, as the number of parishioners had doubled. The parish celebrated its golden jubilee.  Many circumstances, including the war and post war restrictions, delayed the building project and it is to his credit that when Canon Lyons died in 1955 the Fund had reached £30,500.

First Church of St Charles'  interior

First Church of St Charles’ interior

In 1955 Fr (later Canon) Vincent O’Sullivan arrived at St Charles’ with the expressed wish of Archbishop Campbell to build a new church for the expanding Parish of St Charles’.  A new Building Fund was launched, which took the form of weekly Friday Night house to house collections. One hundred parishioners volunteered as collectors and it proved very successful. After consideration, it was decided to build the new church on the site of the old church. The former Masonic Hall at Wilton St was acquired and used as the parish hall – which proved useful for further fundraising;  it was also later used as a the St Charles’ Mass Centre when the old church closed on 23 Feb 1958.  Seven Masses on a Sunday and Holydays of Obligation were needed to accommodate the parishioners at the Centre. No 2 Kelvinside Gdns (bought by St Charles’ in 1928) was renovated and decorated with a view to being used as a social centre, parochial meeting place and Oratory  for the Blessed Sacrament on the demolition of the old church.

The architects chosen for the new church were Gillespie, Kidd and Coia and when the foundations were dug a burn and rubble from a nearby glass foundry were discovered;  due to this the builders had to pile drive very deeply. Fr O’Sullivan was keen that the old church be kept in use for as long as possible and requested that architect Jack Coia  build the new church from the porch to the sanctuary.

The New Church

St Charles' Church interior Gillespie, Kidd & Coia

St Charles’ Church interior Gillespie, Kidd & Coia

Architects: Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. Sculptors: Benno Schotz and Walter Pritchard. Etchings on glass doors Avril Gibb (Lady Watson Stewart). The modernist church was opened on 31 January 1960 by His Grace Archbishop Campbell. It was one of several bold designs for churches commissioned by the Archdiocese of Glasgow. It is noted for its undulating, vaulted , shuttered concrete ceiling and sculptures by Benno Schotz. The exterior of the building is brick with an exposed concrete frame. It is a long church on a tight, steep hillside site. Described as a  palace of light and a great space of elegance and simplicity. One of the architects,  Andy MacMillan, described it as a landmark. The architect Jack Coia thought that the walls were too bare and when Benno Schotz looked at the church he suggested large figures for the Stations of the Cross;  the four priests in the chapel house were on hand to advise Schotz and Fr McElroy loaned him a book on the passion of Christ. The main white beam around the church represents the Way of the Cross. The stations are in terracotta The figure of Jesus appears lighter than the other figures;  incorporated in the figures  are Fr O’Sullivan at the 6th Station (immediately right of Jesus), at the 8th Station Jacqueline Coia, the daughter of Jack Coia, (the young girl), Minnie Schotz, wife of the sculptor, and ladies of the Garnethill Hebrew congregation, where the Schotz’s worshipped, (the women of Jerusalem)  with Benno in the 5th Station (figure to left of Jesus with hand raised to head);  Jack Coia was also included.

St Charles' Benno Schotz Sanctuary Crucifix

St Charles’ Benno Schotz Sanctuary Crucifix

The Sanctuary Crucifix, by Benno Schotz,  is full of meaning: the crown of thorns surrounding the crucifix is made up of thorns of different sizes. Those pointing towards the cross reflect light those pointing towards the wall are dark. The inscription INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum or Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews), crowns the figure of the crucified Christ on the cross. The sculpture at the front of the altar table represents the Sacrificial Lamb caught in the thorns/thicket and carries through the sanctuary crucifix concept with the New and Old Testament themes of Christ the Son and Lamb of God and the lamb caught in the thorns/thicket sacrificed by Abraham in place of his son, Isaac.

The angel holding the sanctuary lamp was posed for by Betty McAffer, the cleaning lady of Benno Schotz, according to the sculptor’s autobiography. The sanctuary lamp is interwoven with three doves. The concrete baldacchino above the altar is in the shape of a dove. The metal dove at the east elevation of the church is by Walter Pritchard. The sanctuary tabernacle was presented by St Charles’ school to the parish. The tabernacle and statue on the Lady Altar is from the old church. The black marble surrounding the Lady Altar was from the staircase of the Grosvenor Restaurant in Gordon St, which had been destroyed by a fire.


Sacrificial Lamb by Benno Schotz

Sacrificial Lamb by Benno Schotz

St Charles’ and the Immaculate Conception parish boundaries were altered when the parish of St Gregory’s was established, to serve the population of the new housing at Wyndford, and St Gregory’s Church at Kelvindale Rd was opened in 1971. From about the 1960s the housing improvements in Glasgow and relocation to new towns/areas meant that many parishioners left the district. The once bustling parish of St Charles’ serving, at one time,  an estimated catholic population of  6,700 was now reduced to fewer than 2,000.

Centenary Mass

Centenary Mass

In 1983 No 2 Kelvinside Gdns  was sold and a new hall was built onto the church to be used by the parish and the school. The original altar, used in the Tridentine Mass, was brought forward to its present position, replacing a wooden altar added after the Vatican II reforms, enhancing the church and sanctuary and displaying prominently the magnificent Schotz sculpture of the Sacrificial Lamb. A  plaque in the church, made  from stone from the Papal Altar at Bellahouston Park, commemorates the Papal Visit in 1982 and the renovation of the church sanctuary. The church became a B listed building.  A new roof had to be constructed due to a major building fault. The cost was covered by an anonymous parishioner.

The church celebrated its centenary and His Eminence Cardinal Winning concelebrated Mass with present and past serving priests of, or associated with, the parish on 21 May 1999.  At the service the Cardinal used a crosier which had belonged to Archbishop Charles Eyre; some belongings of the Archbishop bear the image of his patron St Charles Borromeo: The Cardinal confirmed that Charles Borromeo was the saint he admired the most. On Fri 28 May 1999 the parishioners were honoured by the City Fathers with a prestigious Civic Reception in the City Chambers.

St Charles’ became an Oratory in 2010. In 2013 Fr Allan Cameron was appointed as Rector of St Charles’ and Parish Priest of St Gregory’s.

Copyright P Cox and St Charles’ with grateful thanks to J and M Divers and Sr O’Donovan