The Parish of Stormont
We are situated in a suburban area of East Belfast, through which runs the main arterial route from the city to North Down and the Ards Peninsula. The parish covers an area of about three-square miles comprising housing development and a large green belt area containing Parliament Buildings (the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly), Government Offices, Stormont Castle, and a public park. The origins of the area’s name can be found in early maps where it is called Storm Mount – a probable reference to its exposed situation on the side of the Holywood hills.
The city centre is only a few miles away and access to Belfast’s main ring road is close by. A ten-minute car journey takes one to Belfast City Airport and the city’s international airport at Aldergrove can easily be reached in 45 minutes. The church, parish hall and rectory occupy adjacent sites in the centre of the parish. The Parish was set up in 1960 to meet the needs of rapidly developing housing estates in suburban east Belfast. Much of the housing dates from this period adding to several more mature areas which had been established in the 1920s and 1930s.
We are a friendly and welcoming parish, of mixed ages and backgrounds. There is a nucleus of highly-motivated and committed people, who employ a true sense of Christian Stewardship – using all of God’s gifts in the service of the parish and community.
At present St Molua’s has one full-time priest (the Rector) assisted by an associate clergy member and a parish reader. Other staff include an Organist & Choir Director and a Cleaner, both of whom are part-time. The general administration and running of the Parish is greatly assisted by volunteers serving in our Parish Office, on the Grounds Team, on the Select Vestry and on various other committees. Opportunities for fellowship beyond Sunday services are provided through the usual mix of groups for adults and young people. These include Badminton and Arts clubs, Knit & Natter, Keep Fit and Walking groups, Crafty Folk and a Ladies Guild.
St Molua’s is a relatively modern building, consecrated in 1962. The architect was the late Denis O’D Hanna LRIBA, who described the design as “modernist with its roots in the traditions of the church” and is not dissimilar to that of the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral which was nearing completion as the building of St Molua’s was beginning. It has been described as ‘Byzantine’ by some and ‘oriental or Slavic’ by others. It is listed (Grade B+) by the Department for Communities as a building of architectural interest and, in 2013, was shortlisted in the Best Modern Churches competition held by the UK National Churches Trust,
The church, which is built from rustic Dungannon brick, has many interesting features both inside and out. The west front is dominated by no fewer than three narrow spires, each supporting a cross. The building is 120 feet long by 60 feet wide (36.6 metres by 18.3 metres) and its 50 foot (15.2 metres) main spire soars half the height of the church again. The spires are covered with cedar shingles. These were chosen at the time, not only for their appearance, but also because of concerns that the copper alternative would conduct unbearable noise in times of heavy rain! It was also feared that the verdigris which forms on copper could run and stain the brickwork.
The bell for the central tower came from Hollymount Parish in Claremorris, County Mayo. However, after ongoing problems affecting its sound, and safety concerns over its mounting, the bell was taken down and is on display in the vestibule of the church. A realistic sounding digital bell system now calls parishioners to worship. Over the main entrance doors of the church, a chain of twelve angels executed in brass symbolise the protection of heaven and are the work of Ulster goldsmith and sculptor, James McKendry.
At the feet of the angels, those involved in the design and construction of the church are represented, along with their tools. To the left of the main doors, on the curved wall, is a stone moulding representing the Holy Spirit descending into the symbols of the Sacrament – the Bread and Wine and the Font. To the right, a similar moulding shows the Eagle, which represents the Word of God, with Satan entangled in his grasp and an open book with the letters Alpha and Omega.
The inner vestibule doors have opaque glass panels with carved wooden mouldings, Irish in character and incorporating the Boss of the Holy Trinity and other Celtic type designs. Beyond these, you come immediately to an impressively sized font, its sides decorated with an Irish cross. The font cover represents the Orb of the World supporting the Cross
The architect believed that, while the various art forms used to ornament the church should be contemporary in form, they should not be so abstract that they expressed no meaning, but should help to extend the church’s message. The people of St Molua’s are therefore, very fortunate in having, in the main theme of the interior of the church, a constant reminder of the Divine plan for the redemption of mankind. Painted panels in the ceiling of the Nave, the work of local artist Desmond Kinney, illustrate The Annunciation; The Nativity; The Baptism of Jesus; The Last Supper and the Kiss of Betrayal.
The story continues at Calvary on the organ screens on both sides of the Chancel. In beaten and shaped metalwork, one sees the cross of Christ and those of the thieves on either side. The spears of the Roman soldiers are raised, while the crowd gathers below.
Behind the Holy Table is the most striking feature of the interior of St Molua’s, a mural on the (ecclesiastical) east wall, again the work of Desmond Kinney. Entitled “Christ in Majesty” the mural is painted on a concave bay 37 feet high and 35 feet wide. Christ is seen ascended and seated on his throne. In his hand the Orb of Majesty and above Him the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The light of God pours down from the throne upon the Holy Table and the communicants. The central figure is surrounded by a choir of angels, some playing medieval musical instruments. The rich colours of the mural contrast strongly with the rustic brick of the interior walls.
Narrow windows on both sides of the Nave, set at an angle and reaching nearly the full height of the building, focus incoming daylight on the Holy Table and the mural. The effect of this is enhanced by the fact that these windows are now all in stained glass. The Nave and Chancel floors incorporate Irish designs.
In keeping with the pews and choir stalls, the Pulpit and Lectern are in light oak and of plain design. A carved panel on the front of the Pulpit represents the four gospel writers – the Lion of Mark, the Ox of Luke, the Man of Matthew and the Eagle of John. Carvings on the lectern show an eagle, representing the Word of God, holding the Torch of Truth in one talon and in the other, Satan in the form of an expiring snake. Above him is the Irish symbol of Eternity.
Carvings on the prayer desks show the Tree of Life and the angel, who guarded the gate of Eden, has now lowered his sword so that all may pass freely through to the Altar of God.
In the crossing, just below the lectern, you will find the Book of Memory which lists, by year, those parishioners who have died since the founding of the parish. The pages are turned weekly.
From the crossing, you will also get the full benefit of the side windows. The original design for the stained glass was prepared by Wippell of Exeter. Thanks to the generosity of members of the parish who have dedicated windows in memory of loved ones, all twenty have now been installed. The colours used move from sombre purples to vibrant yellows, from darkness to light.
To the south of the Chancel is the Chapel. Unusually, although it can be entered through a side door from the nave, it is walled off from the Chancel and has its own main doors to the outside world which are similar in style to those at the west end of the church.
The Chapel is much simpler in design and is used as a place for quiet private contemplation and for the smaller, early morning and mid-week services. Like the church, the furnishings are in light oak, the walls are plain except for four appliqué hangings on the themes of Creation, Pentecost, The Tree of Life, and Christ in Word and Sacrament.
The symbolism which is so evident on the front (ecclesiastical west end) of the church, and in its interior, continues around the rest of the exterior. On the side wall of the parish office, somewhat hidden from view, are five further stone mouldings.
First, a representation of Creation with the hand of God lifting the sun, moon and stars from the waters. The winged thunderbolt, which was regarded as one of God’s great instruments, is also shown. The next moulding shows Adam and Eve in disgrace leaving the Garden of Eden and walking out into the outer darkness of the world. Adam puts an arm round Eve for comfort, but the Hand of Christ comes from the sky and offers them a fresh opportunity. The third is one of two which depict scenes from the life of St Molua. It illustrates the legend that, when he was young, Molua miraculously cured his father of a cancerous foot; the demon of disease is seen fleeing from the foot. The fourth shows the protecting hands of God, one holding Man in His palm above the flames of perdition and loss, with the second hand above sheltering him from the cruel shafts of the world. The last moulding in this group represents Molua as Bishop supervising the erection of one of his churches.
On the opposite side of the church, on the side wall of the choir robing room, are five more stone mouldings, depicting symbols of Jesus. The first is the Rose of Sharon and the Lamb of God; the second, the pelican feeding its young with blood from its own breast with, above, the Crown of Thorns and Calvary and, below, the interwoven Celtic pattern symbolic of eternal life. The fourth symbol of Jesus, the Fish, is seen on the third carving, with the tree that grew from a grain of mustard seed in which the birds of the air took shelter.
The Lion of Judah, with Satan bruising His heel and Christ bruising the head of Satan with a cross, is the fourth carving. He wears a crown and above Him is the Tree of life. The discarded apple of Eden lies at His feet. The final image is of the True Vine and the Chalice. It was the great quest of the Middle Ages to try to discover this Holy Grail and it has become a symbol of high venture.
On the bays to the rear of the church, silvered metal decorations represent the ‘tares’ in the parable of the sower. It is understood that the representations of wheat, which completed the theme, caused dampness and had to be removed.
The Parish Hall
On the outside of the adjacent Parish Hall, is a sculpture in beaten sheet copper representing Jesus the Carpenter. The hall itself is Scandinavian in design. Originally, it had no steel in its structure, being supported by laminated trusses. This type of construction was relatively new in Northern Ireland and employed here in a Church of Ireland hall for the first time. Steel bracing has since been added to strengthen the integrity of the building.
On the wall at the curved left-hand end of the building are two more stone mouldings. The first shows the snakes being banished from Ireland by the crosier of St Patrick. The snakes are believed to typify certain sins and pagan heresies of the Druidical world of Ireland so, with that in mind, the next rather puzzling panel is more easily understood. It shows Crom Cruskin, the patron deity of Tara, one of the famous idols of the Druids against whose priests Patrick strove. But the cross of conquest has been driven through his belly to remove his evil power and the crosier of Patrick, ornamented with his Irish cross, rises triumphant above.
St Molua’s Church
Parish of Stormont
645 Upper Newtownards Road
Belfast BT4 3LR
Tel: 028 9041 9171
Parish Office open: Monday and Wednesday from 10.00am to 12 noon
Church open: Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 10.00am to 12 noon and for services.
Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC102374