A major restoration of the Church of St Mary & St Finnan has taken place since our last visit. We will return as soon as possible, but for the moment this page remains as it was before the restoration began, and is therefore out of date.
The Catholic Church of St Mary and St Finnan stands in a magnificent raised location in Glenfinnan which offers stupendous views down Loch Shiel and across to the mountains which line the loch's south-eastern shore. It is difficult to think of a more beautifully located church anywhere in Scotland.
The church stands immediately to the south-west of the A830 "Road to the Isles" as it climbs from the Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Shiel towards Glenfinnan Station. There is a spacious parking area next to the church, and from there it is a very short stroll to the church itself.
En route you pass the church bell, located in a roofed housing in front of the church. Accounts differ about whether it was placed here because the money for building the church ran out before the belfry was added or, as seems more likely, the raised location of the site meant that it was deemed unnecessary to place the bell on top of the church. Whatever the reason, the location means it is possible to see that the bell was produced in the Eagle Foundry in Dublin.
After the Reformation of 1560, Catholicism retained its strongest foothold in the more remote areas of Scotland, and in particular in the Western Highlands. This was one of the reasons why it was at the head of Loch Shiel that Prince Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Price Charlie", chose to raise his standard on Monday 19 August 1745. The story of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, which came so very close to placing the Stuarts back on the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland is told on our Glenfinnan Monument page: suffice it to say that the strength of Catholicism in the area was partly why the uprising began in Glenfinnan.
The origins of the Church of Our Lady and St Finnan, as it is also called, dates back to the late 1860s when the Parish Priest, Father Donald MacDonald, decided that his parish needed a place of worship whose grandeur could match that of its surroundings.
Father MacDonald was the uncle of the last Laird of Glenfinnan, Colonel John A. MacDonald of Glenaladale, who financed the project and made the site available. This may be why Father MacDonald chose as his architect Edward Welby Pugin. Son of Augustus Welby Pugin, widely regarded as the founder of the Gothic Revival style in British architecture, Edward Welby Pugin was responsible for designing over 100 Catholic churches and cathedrals, mainly in England and Ireland, but also in Western Europe and beyond. The Church of Our Lady and St Finnan is one of four churches designed by Pugin in Scotland.
The church built in Glenfinnan between 1870 and 1872 is ambitious in scale and Gothic in style. Surrounding vegetation and the slope dropping steeply to the loch mean your only clear external views of it are from the north and north-east, but these are sufficient to appreciate the way the church seems to fit perfectly into its surroundings.
Internally you find a light and airy space of considerable grandeur. The nave is fully aisled and rises to a clearstory. A chancel arch leads to the chancel at the north-east end of the church, where the alter is surmounted by a large rose window placed high in the gable. This is a relatively recent addition to the church, being dedicated in June 1995. It was designed and installed by Ormsby of Scarisbrick.
The Church of Our Lady and St Finnan underwent restoration in 1985, and in recent years considerable effort has gone into restoring and drying out the fabric of the Grade B listed church. Despite this, it is clear to anyone who visits that a great deal more remains to be done, with signs of damp and peeling paint visible on many of the interior walls. This beautiful building is well worth preserving, so if you do visit remember that a contribution will help ensure its survival for future generations to enjoy.