ST FRANCIS XAVIER’S CHURCH, HOPE STREET, FALKIRK
St Francis Xavier’s parish is the oldest Roman Catholic parish within the civil district of Falkirk. A regular Sunday Mass was begun in the town in 1839 and the present site was acquired in 1843. The church built in that year was destroyed by fire in 1955 and the present building was solemnly opened on the 29th October 1961.
In 1843 the church site would have been a little out of the way, but in recent decades due to Various changes in the town St Francis Xavier’s church is passed by many thousands of people every day. Eyes are drawn to the statue of the church’s patron carved by the sculptor Maxwell Allan from a single block of Blaxter stone. To its right there are depicted the four evangelists in the traditional manner as lion, man, eagle and ox (Mark, Matthew, John and Luke, symbols drawn from Eze 1:10) -these were carved from concrete by the artist Miss E Dempster, a disciple of Sir Hew Lorimer.
As one enters the church one notices two areas behind metal railings. The smaller was originally the baptistery and the larger a mortuary chapel. They now contain respectively a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa and the stall for books and devotional articles. The chapel exists owes its existence to a community of Poles who have worshipped here since the time of World War 2.
Entering the church proper one is struck by the breadth of the building, its brightness and the space of the altar area. The altar is made from plain Kenton stone, to the left is the lectern from which the scriptures are proclaimed; to the right is the presidential chair for the celebrating priest. On the far left is the baptismal font behind which is a painting by the late Peter Brady of Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist. Behind the altar is the tabernacle wherein is reserved the Blessed Sacrament -the doors of the tabernacle show the coats of arms of Pope John XX111 and Archbishop Gray who were in office at the time of the church’s opening. Beside the tabernacle are six candlesticks with small bronze figures of Scottish saints designed by A R Conlin, the church architect: Andrew, Ninian, Columba, Mungo (also known as Kentigern), Margaret and John Ogilve. Above the altar are 7 lamp stands (symbol of the 7 churches in the book of the Apocalypse), of which at least one is burning to show that the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. On the back wall we have a crucifix with Christ wearing the vestments of a priest and wearing the crown of a king.
On the left side of the church there are three side chapels. Above the altars in these chapels we see some fine mosaics by the Casa group of Edinburgh which portray Our Lady as Queen of the World, St Andrew and St Margaret, patrons of our country.
On the right side of the church we have the confessionals where one can speak face to face with the priest as well as kneel in the traditional manner behind the grill and there are statues of Our Lady, the Sacred Heart, St Joseph, St Teresa of Lisieux and St Patrick.
Higher up on both sides of the church we can view art work by Felix McCullough of Edinburgh. The 14 Stations of the Cross are painted in panels, thus showing how the scenes are all inter-connected. At the beginning we see St Francis and St Clare who did so much to promote this devotion.
We can also see on either side of the church coloured windows, 40 in number, made in a style called “the decorative application of automotive safety glass”, something only rarely to be found.
On the left side we can see the 15 mysteries of the Rosary depicted in order from the back of the church forward.
On the right side of the church the central 5 windows show the Last Supper. To their left we have ten windows illustrating significant events in the history of the Church in Scotland and in this area -these show in order towards the sanctuary St Palladius (reputedly an early bishop in Ireland and Scotland), St Ninian who evangelised much of southern and central Scotland, St Columba who preached the gospel in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, St Modan who is considered to have established the first church in Falkirk, the martyrdom of St John Ogilve in 1615, the second battle of Falkirk in 1746 with the old steeple and Callendar House in the background (2 pictures), Fr Paul Maclachlan outside the first place of worship, Rankine’s Folly in the Pleasance, the restoration of the hierarchy in 1878 and finally a Blessed Sacrament procession with the old church and industrial buildings in the background.
To the right of the Last Supper we have in order towards the back of the church the following religious themes: the sacraments of Baptism, Penance, Confirmation, Eucharist; the Trinity, the Lord’s Passion, Our Lady; and finally the sacraments of Orders, Marriage and Anointing the Sick.
As one heads out of the church one notices on the choir balcony the Latin words Magister adest et vocat te (the Master is present and is calling you) -a reminder to raise one’s mind and heart to God in prayer, if one has not already done so. Above this one is struck by the magnificent windows depicting scenes from the life of our patron, St Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary to the far east of Asia in the 16th century.
LORD, WE THANK YOU FOR THE WORSHIP GIVEN TO YOU HERE OVER SO MANY YEARS. BLESS THIS PARISH COMMUNITY AND ALL WHO COME TO THIS CHURCH WITH A DEEP SENSE OF YOUR PEACE.
ST FRANCIS XAVIER, PRAY FOR US!