St. Catherine of Siena, Birmingham

St. Catherine of Siena, lies in central Birmingham almost exactly on the boundary between the city centre and the inner suburbs. The church was built in the mid-1960s to replace a mid-Victorian building, one of the first Roman Catholic churches in the city, that was demolished in 1964 to allow for the widening of the A38.

Uncompromisingly modernist in style, and if anything mid-Century Scandinavian in texture; St. Catherine’s form also recalls Italy the homeland of the saint to which it is dedicated. The twin elements of modernity and tradition ripple throughout the building.

The main body of the church is spherical, in basilica style, a feature that harks back to some of the earliest Christian architecture. This doesn’t mean however, that the Catholic church chose the basilica style purely as an appeal to tradition and the origins of their faith. On the contrary the choice of the spherical basilica style made possible the implementation of the radical reforms to church liturgy and practice mandated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Vatican II mandated that the church and its practices become more open to the laity. Holding services in the vernacular (English rather than Latin) and constructing worship spaces in the round so that all attendees could see the mass and feel like equal participants were key planks of this agenda. The interior of St. Catherine’s clearly expresses these values. Its walls are adorned with traditional Catholic imagery and symbolism, however, the central space is light, bright and modern with clear sight lines towards the altar.

The church is also a welcoming space in other regards. Its side rooms place host to many community groups and outreach services, whilst as the John F. Kennedy memorial chapel indicates, the church has long served as a hub for Birmingham’s Irish community a large proportion of which initially settled in Digbeth just on the other side of the A38.


Exterior Photos of St. Catherine’s


 

Interior Photos of St. Catherine’s


 

Artifacts and Aids to Worship in St. Catherine’s


 

Stained Glass and Paintings in St. Catherine’s