In the 1800s Gorton, then a village outside Manchester, saw a massive influx of immigrants, mostly from Ireland, to man the rapidly growing train-building and cotton industries. A group of exiled Franciscan monks came from Douai to Gorton to re-establish a Catholic community. They appointed a 24 year old gothic revivalist architect, Edward Pugin son of the better known A W Pugin, to build them a monastery and church. Ambitious and determined to catch the eye of the Vatican and win a commission in Rome, Pugin designed the largest parish church of its time in the UK. Then, as now, it is visible on the horizon from miles around towering over the surrounding terraced houses. In 1989 the Franciscan monks held their last mass and sold the estate to property developers who then went bust, stripped the church of its sculptures and left the door open.
A community-based group has bought the building and raised the seven million pounds needed to re-use it. The saints from the nave were discovered at an auction and resided for some years in a container, awaiting reconciliation with their plinths high up in the nave. A testament to regeneration by will-power, after eight years of dogged persistence, the painstaking reconstruction is complete and the building is again open, this time for secular use and the occasional wedding.