In 1964, in preparation for the construction
of another new building for the Catholic Church in Scotland,
Gillespie Kidd and Coia (GKC) the Glasgow architectural practice
ordered a matching set of church artwork for the interior
of St Patrick’s Kilsyth.
Jack Coia, the eponymous head of the practice
was the ‘charming and forceful’ personality
behind the company and was subsequently the winner of the
RIBA Gold Medal in 1969 for outstanding quality and achievement
in architecture which put him in the exalted company of architectural
giants such as Lutyens, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
It was said at the time that much of the credit for this award
came from the recognition of the outstanding design for St
Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. The GKC partnership had
already undertaken 35 commissions to build churches for the
various diocese of the Catholic Church in Scotland and was
to go on before the practice was to close its doors in 1978,
to build a total of 41 churches and chapels of various sizes
throughout the country. Two years after the opening of St
Patrick’s Kilsyth, Coia was also to be appointed CBE
in 1967 followed by honorary degrees from the Universities
of Glasgow (1970) and Strathclyde (1976).
St Patrick’s Kilsyth was late in the history of the
practice being the 6th from last in this long line of ecclesiastical
commissions and by this point in time the distinctive modernist
style of the creative force within the company which lay with
Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan had become clear. Many of
the features visible in St Patrick’s were also visible
in other churches of the same family.
The set of artwork for St Patrick’s Kilsyth consisted
of a major crucifix for the main sanctuary, a statue of Our
Lady, a statue of St Patrick (left), a minor crucifix for
the mortuary chapel and 14 stations of the cross. All of these
were commissioned as a set, the work of a single artisan.
The stark design of the set in plain white wood without any
form of paint or decoration was in keeping with the modernist
and minimalist design of the building but it was also a metaphor
for both the austere post war era in which the building was
commissioned and it was also an echo of the iconoclasm of
the reformation where Catholic ostentation was rejected in
favour of puritanical Spartan bleak and unembellished ecclesiastical
The Catholic church in Scotland in the 1960’s was undergoing
an unprecedented expansion, opening in some years, one new
church a month in each diocese all over Scotland. The so long
so poor, working class, mainly 2nd or 3rd generation Irish
were now emerging as an established middle class of the country
and moving outward from the confines of city tenements to
the outskirts and suburbs of Scotland’s new towns and
even rural villages. In turn, the Church had to respond to
this migration of its people, establishing new parishes in
historic burghs, in some cases not previously dignified with
the presence of a Catholic place of worship since the 1500s.
It was therefor with some sense of discovery and wonder that
the local history of a place was often investigated to uncover
what facsimilia of its Catholic past was left after almost
400 years of Reformation, iconoclasm and repression.
This was also true of Kilsyth. Since the 1830’s
there had been a notable population of expatriate Irish who
showed concern that they nurture their Catholic faith in their
new found land. By 1846 it was recorded that the Catholics
of Kilsyth walked to Campsie, the village of Lennoxtown, to
take part in the life of that newly established Catholic Parish
there. The history of local Catholic saints such as St Mirin,
whose cell and well lie in the hills above Kilsyth and St
Machan whose remains still lie under his long ruined medieval
chapel in Campsie Glen as well as the location of other ancient
churches and the rich history of local pre-reformation clergy
in the story of Scotland became a popular Victorian antiquarian
By 1865, Kilsyth had a Catholic Church of its own but after
almost 100 years by the early 1960’s this small, traditional
stone built building, which had been engulfed by an almost
disastrous fire on at least one occasion was no longer fit
for the size of the Parish which had to cater for 1500 active
Catholics and who craved a building fit for their needs and
© Jon Marc Creaney – Architect, Photographer and
friend of St Patrick’s Kilsyth.
Born April 1971, died November 2011 aged 40 RIP.
On 17th March 1965 after a one-year
construction project the new St Patrick’s church was opened
by His Eminance Gordon
Joseph Cardinal Gray
. Able to accomodate 600 people in one
sitting, the scale of the building was epic and the ambition
of the modernist statement that it made was forward looking
and progressive. This was a Catholic community saying that we
may have been away – but we are back and back for good!
Today the building remains the only grade A listed building
in the town and is by far the most modern looking building even
after having stood for more than 50 years.
Kilsyth pictured in 1965. This photo by kind permission of the
GKC Archives at the GUSA ©
By the end of the 20th century however, this new St Patrick’s
building in Kilsyth had been allowed to fall into a state of
disrepair. This had come about partly by some of the flaws in
the functional engineering of the building - a well know feature
of the GKC buildings – mainly due to dealing with drainage
of water from the large span of the roof and the emerging building
standards in how to withstand the wet Scottish climate. The
parish priest at this time, Fr
, managed to put together a financial restoration
package which would save the building and extend its life for
another 50 years.
This project started in 1999 and continued over the whole of
the year 2000. The parish community was decanted to use the
local Catholic School for many services of worship and the hand
of Christian friendship was extended by the Burns & Old
Parish Church of Scotland in an historic gesture of interfaith
co-operation, where Saturday night vigil Mass was said, for
just over a year, inside an active Church of Scotland church
building. A generous act of tolerance and friendship unthinkable
only a generation beforehand and for 400 years previously!
It was only when the building work had been completed and the
Church building re-opened, that it became apparent that the
5 works of art commissioned by GKC in 1964 had become 4, as
the minor crucifix was missing! No trace of it could be found
and the population of the Parish eventually came to the realisation
that it was unlikely ever to discover what had happened to the
last missing item of the set. The only sign of the missing crucifix
were 4 ugly holes in the wall of the mortuary chapel where once
it had hung.
In the years since the restoration of St Patrick’s, the
Scottish Architectural community have belatedly come to recognise
Isi Metzstien and Andy MacMillan as elder statesmen and highly
influential figures of Scottish architecture. After a highly
successful 2007 exhibition at the Lighthouse in Glasgow where
a retrospective appreciation of their work was hailed, they
were recognised also by Glasgow University, gaining an honorary
degree which they were awarded on behalf of the Glasgow University
School of Architecture based at the Glasgow School of Art.
Since then, in May 2008 they were both nominated as inaugural
joint winners of the RIAS Lifetime Achievement Award and in
December 2008 were named as joint winners of the prestigious
RIBA Annie Spink Award for Excellence in the development of
Architectural Education and Teaching in Scotland.
A few years before the death of Isi Metzstein in 2012 they were
both invited back to inspect St Patrick’s now in its post
restoration state. They were pleased with the quality of the
outcome but observed that the building had been ‘softened
by the use of decor, plants and banners and that the stark intent
of the design had been diluted. Isi has since died in January
2012 and Andy also passed away in August 2014. With their death
came an outpouring of recognition of the works of the GKC practice.
It is said that in terms of modernist ecclesiastical design,
it is the most important body of work in Europe arguably only
surpassed by the great Mario Botta’s works in Germany,
Italy and Switzerland. As appreciation for the works of Gillespie
Kidd and Coia grows around the world there are a more and more
visitors to these buildings each year and St Patrick’s
Kilsyth is emerging as one of the most important of these works
– still in its intended form and still in daily use as
a Catholic place of worship.
MacMillan (left) and Isi Metzstein (right) revisit St Patrick’s
in 2007 (photo by kind permission of Kieran Dodds ©)
with the main crucifix in the sanctuary of St Patrick’s
visible behind them.
It has become therefor of some considerable
concern and regret in recent years, not only to the parish
but also to the Arts and Heritage Association of the Archdiocese
of St Andrews and Edinburgh, that this artistically and historically
important collection of commissioned artwork within an important
GKC church is now incomplete.
Regrettably in more recent times a well-meaning but flawed
restoration of the statue of Our Lady has covered it in oil
or varnish rendering it visibly darker than the rest of the
set. An act of unfortunate if unintentional vandalism –
you would never, after all, varnish a Chippendale chair!
And so it came as fantastic news recently that the missing
minor crucifix had been rediscovered!
In the early 2000’s a group of Edinburgh based Catholic
volunteers went to Romania to assist with practical aid to
this long forgotten European country which had been under
the yoke of Communist rule throughout the 20th Century, where
human rights and religious freedom were suppressed in the
brutal regime of Nicolai Ceausescu. This, by now poor and
marginalised country, was once again open to the rest of Europe
and like many other charities, the group from Edinburgh set
off with food, medical aid and also aid for the Catholic Church
in Romania to help re-establish itself. They were bound for
the town of Dârmânest in the east central mountains
of Romania 200 miles north of Bucharest close to the border
The Catholic Church
Amongst the gifts for the people of Dârmânest
was an old crucifix that had come into their possession as
‘surplus to requirements’ somehow and
might make a suitable gift to the local Catholic Church in
Romainia. For over a decade no one thought any more about
this small act of benevolance.
One day in 2015 a parishioner from St Patrick’s was
chatting to a Catholic friend in Edinburgh about the missing
crucifix, who as it happened, had been on this trip to Romania
over 10 years before.
Days later, the friend who had remembered this lamenting story
about the one piece of missing artwork from the set, had taken
the trouble to look out his photos of the charitable trip
to Romania in his youth. There, amongst the photos of the
people they met and the churches they visited, was the minor
crucifix of St Patrick’s Kilsyth, commissioned all those
years ago by GKC partnership!
At least now we know what has happened to it! It is comforting
to know that if the cross cannot actually be with the rest
of the original collection of art works commissioned for St
Patrick’s Kilsyth, then at least it is being used –
as it was intended - to decorate and beautify the inside of
a Catholic church in a far off land. No one in St Patrick’s
begrudges the people of Dârmânest their cross,
in fact it is hoped that the crucifix might one day act as
a bridge between the two parish communities to get to know
each the other better – perhaps a parish trip from St
Patrick’s to Romainia or vice versa would be a fitting
GKC Crucifix in Dârmânest
This tale however, serves as a warning to all involved in
the custodianship of the artwork and heritage within our churches,
not least our parish priests! To know the value and the history
of an item of church artwork or heritage before it is moved,
‘restored’ or even gifted away in what
might seem like a good idea at the time, is absolutely key.
There are many demands of our priests these days and they
cannot be expected to know everything. We can however expect
them to consult more widely & more wisely when it comes
to maintaining the historic patrimony of OUR parish churches
of which they are custodians as they pass through - they are
duty bound to listen to the counsel of those who are in a
position to advise!
sanctuary of the Catholic church in Dârmânest.
is the only known photo of the Dârmânest cross in
its original home at St Patrick's Kilsyth from 1965 to 1999.
is the original location of the Dârmânest Crucifix
which has now been replaced by the cross of 'Christ triumphant
over death' which was a gift to St Patrick's Kilsyth from
the Kearny New Jersey Celtic Supporters Club in 1965. Sadly
the holes in the wall behind the new cross are still visible.
Photo - Holy Thursday evening 2016. The Mortuary Chapel is used
as the Altar of Repose for the Blessed Sacrament.