23 Apr 2010

Paisley's gothic wonder

Sometimes I come across a building that doesn’t seem to suit its name. A perfect example is the Thomas Coats Memorial Baptist Church in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Often called the Baptist Cathedral of Europe, the church was opened in 1894 following its commission by Mr. Coats’ widow and children.

Mr. Coats, a businessman and much-loved member of the Paisley community, was so devoted to helping local societies and charities that when he died in 1883, 2000 people attended the public funeral.

Obviously, Thomas Coats was a wonderful man who deserves to be remembered for his outstanding contributions to society.

But the magic of this extravagant building lies with its architect, Hippolyte Blanc. That is the name that feels like it could be draped in red silk over the crown spire.
Known for his gothic revival style, Blanc’s work includes the Christ Church Episcopal and the Mayfield Free Church in Edinburgh, and the Bangour Village Hospital in West Lothian, a psychiatric hospital that opened in the early 1900s and closed in 2004. In 2005 Bangour was used as a film set for the The Jacket staring Adrien Brody.

The Coats Memorial wasn’t open when I was there, so I walked around it in the slow falling rain, trying to take in the details of the spires and the eerily comic gargoyles that clamour above the front entrance.

Then there were the dragons, carved from the same warm stone as the church itself. I love these dragons - so small but somehow barely contained, like they could unfurl and spring to life at any time.

My favourites are those who are in the process of devouring their own wildly ornate tails.
This church has the kind of atmosphere that causes artists and film makers to go weak with longing. It is a ready-made platform for romantic, grotesque and grandiose stories.

This is why my mind wants to rename it after a woman. Church of our Lady Branwyn or something else that feels like it has been hauled from the sultry mire of the Scottish moors.

There are so many reasons to go back to Paisley for another visit, but high on my list is a chance to walk through the doors and into the deep belly of this stunning building.

Thank you, Hippolyte Blanc.

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