Perhaps it’s a response Glasgow’s innate “hilliness”, but there are a number of buildings that sport iconic towers that make them easier to spot amongst the undulations. (Some of them can be seen on my earlier post Glasgowld) As a means of giving a building stature, it certainly works for two in particular have caught my eye as I ploughed my way through the city and its financial district on recent visits.
The first of these is the Jesuit church of St Aloysius which I found when hunting out the famous Glasgow School of Art to see if its Mackintosh exterior was sufficiently restored after the 2014 fire to be worth photographing. Alas it was not, but the nearby church provoked my curiosity and ultimately repaid it; it is after all modelled on a Belgian Cathedral and was the first church in Glasgow to feature a tower in its construction. Of course no self-respecting Italian would have a church without a campanile (see this post), but the fact that the church was constructed shortly after the influx of Italian refugees into the city in the late 19th Century is surely no more than a coincidence.
In any event this Baroque Revival building is sufficiently impressive to warrant a Scottish Category A listing for its architectural value; category A meaning it has national or international value.
Perhaps because of its links to the nearby affiliated college, or perhaps due to the generosity of the city’s catholics, the building is in good repair, despite being in the less than chic Garnethill area of the city. The exterior gilding shines brightly against the warm red sandstone associated with many Glasgow tenements. For me the interior was more inspiring, though apparently so costly to complete, that it delayed the consecration of the church for decades until the debt was paid. The decoration, comprising Venetian-style mosaics and marble, is clearly Italianate.
In complete contrast with St Aloysius is another church whose imposing structure demands attention, though the fact that the church is now encroached upon by the glass and steel of corporate Scotland diminishes the impact it might once have had. Situated on St Vincent Street, I had for a long time made the erroneous assumption that this must be St Vincent’s. It’s not at all. It’s the Glasgow City Free Church, though it was originally consecrated as a Presbyterian building.
Also category A listed, this edifice has the additional cachet of having been designed by one of Glasgow’s celebrity architects of the Victorian era. Only Charles Rennie Mackintosh eclipses Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, whose nickname derives from the classical influences that feature strongly in his designs.
Now you may think that any architect working in the Baroque or Neo-Classical styles might have been equally worthy of the epithet, but most followed the Palladian lead of columned buildings with porticoes, pedestals and the occasional sculpture-encrusted tympanum. Thompson went further and ultimately concentrated on the Greek Ionian Style. Look carefully at the tower on St Vincent Street and you will see the clock section supported on carved heads rather than columns, similar to the caryatids of the Athenian Erechtheion.
That closer inspection will reveal more than just the architectural treats that Thomson intended. It will also reveal decay as the surface of much of the masonry crumbles and as weeds take root and open up larger fissures where they grow. How ironic that the church in the run-down part of the city should flourish, while that surrounded by brands like Hilton, Whyte & Mackay, Santander and Barclays should suffer. Perhaps they should organise a whip round with the neighbours.