St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Westgate was designed by Vincente Stienlet and built in 1986 on the garden between the original Parish Church and the Presbytery. It is a striking example of modern ecclesiastical architecture and was awarded the Leeds Award for Architecture in 1987.
In the late 1800’s the Catholic congregation worshipped at a small Chapel in Castlegarth (see 1st Catholic Church) but needed a bigger building. In 1881 the foundation stone for a church was laid in what had been a farm yard donated by Mr. Joseph Hirst. The building work was undertaken by Edward Simpson Builders and Architect of Bradford. The building was consecrated and opened by Bishop Cornthwaite in 1882. Father Ryan, the first Priest to the church, raised the money to pay the outstanding debt for the building.
The Parish Priests first lived in St James Street then in 1939 the present Presbytery next to the church was purchased.
In the early 1980’s a proposal was put forward to build a new church, plans were drawn up and approved in 1984. Substantial work had to be done to prepare the site, which consisted of the Presbytery back garden and the irregular shape between the existing church and the Presbytery, but by means of clever award winning architectural thinking, a modern “Jewel” for worship and prayer was created.
The church is full of light and space with a spectacular stained glass window over the entrance canopy designed by Gerard Lawson, depicting “the celebration of life and creation” with a unique design suggesting the Dales Landscape. The Blue ribbon of the Wharfe and the crossing roads, which symbolise Wetherby, combine to make the PX symbol for Christ’s name, used in the early church.
Fenwick Lawson and Gerard Lawson, Durham artists, had been commissioned by the architect to do the creative work within the church.
Other notable features include the powerful Crucifix above the Altar by Fenwick Lawson, The moving Stations of the Cross and a thoughtfully sensitive Lady Shrine is also by Fenwick Lawson.
The Baptistery and Font are bathed in light from above revealing a hand carved and polished bowl made from black Burlington slate by Mr. Brian Johnson of Bowness-on-Windermere.
The St Joseph Mosaic was another creation by Gerard Lawson, this takes the form of a small Byzantine-like glass mosaic inlaid with elm. The design is of the child Jesus elevated on the shoulders of St Joseph “Every father knows the experience …the operative words in this idea being the elevation of the child”.
The tabernacle was built in stone by Philip Chatfield, a welsh Sculpture who managed to create it in sympathy with the building and other artworks in it.
The Holy Water Stoups were again created out of 100 year old teak and are a smaller version of the Baptismal font.
The two main features of any church are the Altar and the Cross. The top of the Altar was made to reflect the unusual shape of the church, giving the impression of the church growing from the Altar and a feeling of gathering round the Altar. The curved teak below the stone top is made from 100 year old hand rails taken from the Byker Bridge in Newcastle. The cast fluted white base represents the folds in a white linen table drape.
The Cross was designed by the Architect in galvanised steel. It has features in common with the traditional northern St Cuthbert’s Cross with an interlocking spiral design in the centre that softens the outline against the sky.
The latest addition to the artwork is a Three panel Picture, The Blessed Trinity Triptych by Betty Naughton.
The panels are entitled “God the Father” “God the Son” and “ The Holy Trinity”