The first Catholic Church in Lydiate was built in 1480 and dedicated to St. Katherine the patron saint of Lawrence Ireland’s wife Katherine. It is known locally as the ‘Abbey.’
After the destruction of St. Katherine’s Abbey in the late 1500’s the Jesuit Order from 1681 openly served the Catholic population from Lydiate Hall and its chapel. This continued until 1850 when the current church of Our Lady’s was built and opened in 1854. Until then, Lydiate had been without a Catholic Church since the loss of St. Katherine’s.
The Jesuits continued to serve the parish from the College of St Francis Xavier in Liverpool and a frequent visitor to Lydiate was the Jesuit priest and one of the finest of English poets Gerard Manley Hopkins who was known to stay on his visits to Lydiate at the home of a prominent local Catholic, Randall Lightbound and his family at Rose Hill. The house is still there in Pygons Hill Lane, a short distance from the church. One of the poems he wrote while in Lydiate was ‘Spring and Fall’.
In 1860 the Jesuits handed over the running of the church to the local Liverpool Diocese. The first priest in this new era was Father Thomas Ellison Gibson who was parish priest for 19 years. He was the author of the significant work ‘Lydiate Hall and its Associations’ known to be the first true history of the parish. The Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Derby were among those who purchased a copy of this popular book. Father Gibson is interred in the church graveyard beside the ancient wayside cross.
Inside the church can be seen stained glass windows which show clear links with the struggle to keep the Catholic faith alive in Lydiate during penal times. One of these windows is dedicated to Margaret Rimmer who in 1680 refused to swear allegiance to the Church of England and a reminder of less tolerant times.
The most recently installed window depicts St Katherine’s Abbey and the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham, two of only a handful or pre-reformation churches that are still in Catholic hands. Part of the reredos (the artistic decoration behind the altar) is from the original altar in St. Katherine’s Abbey and can be seen in the present church.
The high altar was donated by Thomas Weld Blundell to commemorate the foundation of the church. The church is privileged to own a series of rare fine Nottingham Alabaster Reliefs which can be seen in the former Baptistry. At the front of the pulpit is a bas-relief of the Bishop St. Cuthbert. The figure, like the alabasters, was hidden through penal times.
The church has changed little over the past 150 years but the steeple above the tower was found to be unsafe in the 1950’s and was dismantled.
In the grounds of the church there is a magnificent War Memorial Crucifix. It was erected in 1920 with parishioners’ subscriptions at the cost of £250 10s 10d to commemorate the nine men from Our Lady’s parish who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Their names are inscribed on a plaque beneath the cross. Each Remembrance Sunday there is a procession to the Memorial to pray for and remember those men and their families. It has recently been refurbished.
In the grounds is a rare Tudor Mile Cross which was unearthed in a field by a labourer engaged in levelling a cop in a field half way between Lydiate and Downholland. Crosses such as these were placed along a route leading to the nearest church. It is of solid stone and octagonal in shape. It must have lain in its position buried under the hedge since the period when such objects of veneration were destroyed. It is curious that this discovery should have taken place on the Feast of St. Andrew: that great lover of the Cross. The space immediately around this cross is devoted to the burial of priests.
Above the porch entrance is a canopied figure of Our Blessed Lady and Child carved in stone. The two heads which form the corbels of the north door are representations of Thomas Weld Blundell and his wife.
The cost of building the church was the princely sum of £3,100 and the greater part of the expense was born by Thomas Weld Blundell, Lord of the Manor. The hard stone was purchased from Upholland, the softer stone for the window mullions etc was bought from Aughton Moss Quarry. The architect was J.J. Scholes a prominent architect of his day.
The plain benches and clean lines of Our Lady’s give a feeling of austerity which befits a country parish church but it has, nonetheless, a simplicity and beauty.
The ‘Friends of Our Lady’s’ meet each month to discuss ways to keep the parish running smoothly and to think of ways of reaching out to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We have organised a variety of events including concerts, raffles and quiz nights to raise funds for various charities. Each Christmas we send a large selection of blankets and toiletries to the Missionary Sisters of Charity in Seel Street to help with their work in caring for the homeless. This year we have also sent money to Kenya for the purchase of Catechisms. We were asked to twin with Fr.Waldemar’s parish in Uganda and have sent £1,361 towards the building of a new church. Over the years we have also sent large supplies of fruit and vegetables collected from our Harvest Festival to Jospice in Thornton.