Saint Matthias’ Church
Saint Matthias’ Church is located at 43b Glen Road, Belfast, BT11 8BB.
There are two churches on the site – the original Saint Matthias’ Church (known as the ‘Wee Tin Church’ built by Harland and Wolff), and the modern Saint Matthias’ Church which is used by the Parish Community today.
Below are some photos of both beautiful churches, as well as a history of both churches.
A History of St Matthias’ Church
The little Tin Church of St Matthias, nestling as it still does under the shadow of the Black Mountain, became the second church in St Teresa’s Parish. It has a long and chequered history which began in 1891, when the Church of Ireland announced to the parishioners of St Luke’s in Northumberland Street that a piece of land had been procured for the building of a “mission Church” in Andersonstown. The unusual corrugated iron church was built on the Glen Road and was dedicated by the Church of Ireland Bishop of Down on August 13th, 1892. Church of Ireland records describe this day as a pleasant on with “the adjoining river gurgling its coolness and the lofty pines providing a very welcome shade from the piercing rays of the strong Summer sun.”
For many years, parishioners of St. Matthias’ trudged their way down the Turf Loney from the Upper Springfield Road, from Stockman’s Lane, from Glen Crescent, and from various parts of the Glen Road, in answer to the peal of the simple little bell that rang out each Sunday morning. The Hassen family lived just across the road from St Matthias’ and in their growing up they became firm friends of many of their Catholic neighbours.
One in particular was Michael Tuohy who lived a few doors from the Hassens. Michael was ordained to the priesthood in June 1953, to serve on the African Mission at Port Elizabeth where he worked very closely with the Chinese community.
Ted Hassen became a Church of Ireland minister. His first placement was at the Church of Ireland church at Derriaghy. He then served as a chaplain in the Air Force for three years before returning to St Jude’s at Muckamore where he remained for twenty-five years. In 1972 he built a branch church at Muckamore which was dedicated to St Matthias.
However, the continual uneasy political tension that had overshadowed almost all the years of the existence of the little church reached a climax in June 1969. A special meeting was held in St Luke’s vestry to discuss the future of St. Matthias’ and it was decided that the church should be closed. An article in the parish magazine dated October 1969 explained why:
“Before a recent service in St Matthias’ Church the bell snapped. Was this a prophetic parable? A sinister touch? Was the bell saying “I’ve had enough, let me sleep in peace?”
This bell, which was very much part of the Sunday music in the Glen Road, had been chirping since August 13th, 1892 except when silenced. Since then it has called many people to service and sacrament. The bell tolled for the departed. The bell was a symbol that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by calling men and women to follow him in worship and in life.
Now the bells tongue is silent. From next Sunday the church will rather sadly be quiet amid its sylvan setting. The Autumn leaves will weep the lament. It is a pity that the final services will take place in an atmosphere of tension for in one sense the problem, re the closing, is linked indirectly. Though it must be said plainly that excellent relationships exist in the lower Glen Road area. Thank God for this.
May this bell now permanently silently ring a spiritual song in the hearts and souls of those accustomed to its shrill sound.”
The bell of St Matthias did not remain silent for long; Ted Hassen contacted Canon McNamara, the parish priest of St Teresa’s, to alert him of the interest of Stewards Supermarket in the site. The result was that Canon McNamara bought the church and the site for Catholic use, and by mutual agreement between St. Luke’s and St Teresa’s the little church remained under the patronage of St. Matthias the Apostle.
Mass was celebrated in St Matthias’ for the first time on February 24th, 1970 by Canon McNamara. Among the congregation were members of the Hassen family.
From the very beginning of this new stage in the life of St Matthias’ it has held a very special place in the hearts of all St Teresa’s parishioners but especially in the residents of the lower Glen Road. They referred to it lovingly as “our Oratory” and it was tended to and cared for by the local community. They opened the church and kept it in order. They cut the grass and planted a variety of shrubs around the entrance.
St Matthias’ also became a popular choice for Weddings, both for parishioners and for many living outside the parish. Its arched doorway provided an appropriate setting for many wedding photographs.
In October 1972, St Matthias’ was the venue for two ceremonies held by the sisters of the Holy Cross. One was the Final Vows made by two sisters. The second was the First Profession of five sisters. Five others renewed their vows for another three years and five postulants were received into the novitiate.
During the late 1980s, when Father Fullerton was Parish Priest, tentative proposals were suggested to demolish the little tin church and to replace it with a bigger building, but these were shelved. Instead, in 1992, the building closed for internal renovations. Some re-ordering of the sanctuary was undertaken, and a new altar, ambo, cross and tabernacle were installed, the work of the artist Ray Carroll. The Oratory re-opened for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1992.
On the Eve of All Saints 1993 the Rev E W Hassen was installed as Canon in the Cathedral Church of St Anne. A formal invitation was received by Father Fullerton with a personal postscript from Ted himself:
“It would be lovely to see some old friends from Andersonstown on this occasion, Ted”
Canon Ted Hassen died on October 2nd, 1999. When he was ill he asked one of his fellow ministers to drive him to St Matthias’ where, for the last time, he sat in the pew in which he and his family worshipped all those ears ago.
Father Michael Tuohy predeceased him on July 19th 1994. By this time St Matthias’ was entering yet another phase in its story, with Father Beagon as the Parish Priest. During 1999 the “gurgling river” was culverted and plans were in place for the replacement of the church by a larger new building. However, the cutting down of the tall pines, in March 2001, attracted newspaper and television coverage and evoked a public outcry at the proposed demolition of the little church. In July 2001 St Matthias’ was declared a listed building by the Environment and Heritage Service as a “rare example of a corrugated iron clad single storey church. Its appearance is of a frontier church of the American West”
And so, the original St Matthias remained standing, necessitating the revision of the location and design of its replacement.
The new St Matthias eventually opened 31st October 2004. Since then it has proudly provided parishioners with the accommodation and facilities fitting for the present millennium. A single storey residence for the curate completes the on-site development. The term oratory, previously used to describe St Matthias, disappeared overnight and a plaque on the outside wall now identifies it as St Matthias’ Church. A team of lay ministers continue to take great pride in caring for the brighter and more spacious church.
The original building still stands defunct and decrepit in its old age. But it still serves as a visible reminder of the personal little stories of many who entered through its door during its lengthy past.