CHURCH FIRE: St Simon’s in Partick gutted in overnight blaze

church fire

The Archdiocese of Glasgow said it was a “much-loved” parish church.

BBC Scotland is reporting that a historic Glasgow church has been gutted by flames, after more than 30 firefighters were called out to an early morning blaze.

Emergency services were sent to St Simon’s Church in Partick Bridge Street – the parish priest there is Canon Peter McBride, who is from Renton – after the alarm was raised at 02:40.

More than 30 firefighters are fighting the blaze and the Scottish Fire and Rescue service say one person, believed to be Sister Mary, a nun who lives next door to the church, was given precautionary treatment at the scene.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow said it was a “sad end for a much-loved” church.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said six fire appliances were dispatched and crews were expected to remain at the site for some time.

Pictures and videos posted on social media show flames and smoke billowing from the Roman Catholic church.

Nearby residents were advised to keep windows and doors closed.

Church fire

Residents of neighbouring flats were evacuated as a precaution.

Photos of the church taken at first light show significant fire damage to the roof and front windows.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Glasgow said the cause of the blaze was “not immediately apparent” but they would work with SFRS to investigate.

He added: “The destruction of St Simon’s will be a blow to people far beyond the west end of Glasgow.

“Though small in size, St Simon’s was well-frequented and was the spiritual home of the Polish community in the west of Scotland who had established a shrine there.

“St Simon’s was a much-loved landmark.”

‘Greatly missed’

Built in 1858, St Simon’s is the third oldest Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, after Glasgow Cathedral and St Mary’s church in the city’s east end.

The church’s links to Glasgow Polish community date back to World War Two.

It was used by Polish soldiers based at nearby Yorkhill Barracks. A plaque in front of the church commemorates this connection.

Weekly masses continue to be said in Polish by a priest from the chaplaincy at the Sikorski Polish Club in Glasgow.

The club said in a statement: “Extremely sad news this morning. Saint Simon’s Church was at the heart of our Polish Community with Polish services every week. It will be greatly missed.”

Church after fire
Photos taken at first light showed significant damage to the roof and front windows.

Church with an important history and well known priests who served there

David Livingstone, the greatest African explorer, always told the story that he only escaped from the dye works at Blantyre because a Catholic priest taught him Latin. This enabled him to qualify for medicine at Glasgow University. The priest was Daniel Gallagher, an Irishman who, after studies in Rome, held the first Roman Catholic services in the West End of Glasgow in 1855. He opened this little church in Partick Bridge Street in 1858 calling it St Peter’s. It is the third oldest Catholic church in Glasgow (after the Cathedral and St Mary’s in the East End).

By the turn of the century the church proved too small for the dockers and their families and in 1903 a new St Peter’s was opened in Hyndland Street. The Partick Bridge Street building served as an extension (known as the Bridge Street Chapel)  until the Second World War when soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces who had escaped the Nazis and who were based in Yorkhill Barracks needed a church. Since then the building has also been known as the Polish Church. It was the focus of the Polish community in exile and still today the Saturday Vigil (6 pm) and Sunday (noon) Mass are said in Polish by a Polish priest from the chaplaincy in the Polish Club in Kelvingrove.  There is also Mass in Polish in St Peter’s on Sundays at 3 pm.

In 1945 with the increase in the city’s population the Archdiocese decided to create a separate parish for the Yorkhill side of Dumbarton Road and the church became St Simon’s, the original name of the Apostle Peter. Since then the older housing has been comprehensively demolished but the church was refurbished by Fr Patrick Tierney who was a church historian who had been brought up himself in the area. Now with new housing  from the church’s front door through to Glasgow Harbour St Simon’s looks forward both to preserving its heritage and to welcoming the new residents.  The church was completely restored 2005 – 2008 for its 150th anniversary with the help of a grant of £200 000 from Historic Scotland which was matched by fundraising by the congregation.  in 2013 the Parish Council installed stained glass vignettes of Simon Peter by Lorraine Lamond.  For the Year of Faith a plaque was erected beside the pulpit with the names of those who worshipped in St Simon’s 2012 – 2013.

In 2007 the parish priest of St Simon’s became also the parish priest of St Peter’s, thus restoring the situation of 1903 – 1945.  The main reason was that the Polish workers who had flooded into Glasgow after 2004 proved too many for the little church and provision for Mass had to made for them in the larger church in Hyndland Street.  This was the reason, of course, when most of the immigrants were Irish, that the new St Peter’s had been built.

However in 2011 St Anne’s is Dennistoun was allocated for the use of the new Poles with Fr Wojciech Swiatkowski and parish priest.  Fr Slavin then returned to St Simon’s with Fr John McGrorry from Dumbarton becoming parish priest of St Peter’s before taking up a similar post at St Kessog’s in Balloch.

Father Willy Slavin officiating at a baptismal service in St Simon’s.

For the Year of Faith a plaque was placed adjacent to the pulpit with the names of worshippers.  At Easter 2013 the Parish Council installed new stained glass by Lorraine Lamond which depicts four vignettes of our patron Simon Peter.

Why Simon?  The nickname of Andrew’s brother, Simon,  was in Hebrew Cephas which was translated into Greek as pietra and Latin as Peter.  In the Gospels he is sometimes called Simon Peter.  St Peter’s was a natural choice for the first church in the West End of Glasgow when he opened it in 1858.  When it moved to Hyndland Street the name went to the new church since it was expected the old church would become a hall.   It was referred to as Old St Peter’s.  When it reopened as a parish in 1946 not surprisingly it was given the name Simon.  So in reverse of the Apostle our church’s orighinal name was Peter.  Later it became Simon!

In front of church there is a Memorial Stone in Polish which translates:

During the second World War Polish soldiers on leave from the battlefields came to this church to attend Mass together to hear the word of God in their native tongue, to sing their Polish hymns, and to thank Our Lady, Queen of Poland, for this touch of home the Polish community of Glasgow has. Through the years they felt deeply grateful to Father Patrick Tierney for the privilege he has accorded them of celebrating the Polish Mass in this Church and for the many kindnesses received from him and the parishioners.

and in English:  “I was a stranger and you took me in”  Matthew 25:35

VII Niedziela Wielkanocna 31 Maja 1992 DLA Upamietnienia X Rocznicy Kiedy W TYM Miescie BYL Jan Pawel II


One comment

  1. The statement – a sad end for a much loved church, more than suggests that the Church is absolutely not destined for restoration. Rather one suspects with the demand for land for development in the West End the archdiocese has other plans for the site.

    As for the cause of the fire.Was it malicious. Old churches, albeit ones no longer in use, have a mysterious habit of catching fire.

    Things work in mysterious ways. And as the man from the archdiocese says, sad end for a loved church………..but maybe some niece expensive flats in Glasgow’s West End.

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